Budget pinch might stymie spending plan for schools

November 27, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Education advocates hope their new, $628.6 million-a-year funding plan will give state legislators a politically acceptable way to increase school aid.

But some influential legislators warn that the plan, which would require substantial new revenue, is likely to run afoul of the state's budget crunch.

The funding formula proposed yesterday by the Metropolitan Education Coalition, a statewide advocacy group, would boost state aid by an average of $900 per child annually.

That aid would be directed toward school districts that need it most and would be linked to the performance of the districts and individual schools as measured by the state's annual school "report card."

The proposal is intended to help equalize funding disparities between school districts. But it comes at a time when the state faces a mounting revenue shortfall.

It also comes at a time when legislators are reacting skeptically to a proposed overhaul of the state's tax system, which could pump more than $300 million each year in increased aid into education.

"The legislature is just not going to buy into tax increases to fund enhancements of programs," said state Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "The timing is not right."

The group's proposal would require either new taxes or major cuts in existing programs, said Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

"I don't see see where it would stand a chance at all," Ryan said.

Del. Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery, who chairs an Appropriations subcommittee on education, warned that "we are trying to deal with cuts" in the state budget. She said that a major new funding initiative at this point is "unrealistic."

But the coalition's proposal won praise from Judith Sachwald, the governor's top education aide. Sachwald noted that the plan included elements cited by Schaefer at the September conference on school funding equity sponsored by the coalition that led to yesterday's report. Among them: tying increased aid to performance.

L "It will get serious review by the governor," Sachwald said.

The report issued yesterday cites major funding differences between rich and poor jurisdictions and links them to performance.

Coalition officials argue that virtually every school district would benefit from the plan, not just the state's poorer jurisdictions.

But their report, which relies on fiscal 1989 figures for its funding estimates, gives no specific numbers showing how each school district would fare.

The report also fails to name a revenue source, though it notes that a likely source could emerge from the governor's tax reform commission, whose report is due this week.

Among the specific recommendations in the coalition's proposal:

* Basing the state's Action Plan for Educational Excellence, or "APEX", school aid formula on more current data, which would boost aid by $322.1 million each year. APEX was enacted by the General Assembly in 1987 and helps to cover a school system's basic expenses.

* A $101.7 million increase in aid based on the cost of providing services to disadvantaged students.

L * An additional $118.7 million in aid for special education.

* A proposed funding "floor" for each school district, intended to fund 100 percent of the cost of a "basic quality education." At the very least, that would be the median cost per pupil of any county in the state.

* A total of $17.4 million to help offset the higher cost of services in the metropolitan Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas.

The increased aid would be phased in, increasing local aid to no more than 20 percent each year until the full amount is reached.

In addition, the plan proposes new limits on state aid to local school districts for teacher retirement and Social Security payments.

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