Everything but dollars

November 28, 1990

The Linowes commission has said the legislature should approve more money for the state's poorest school districts. So has State School Superintendent Joseph Shilling, as have educators from Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties. Even the wealthier counties recognize the need. Governor Schaefer has also expressed support for the idea.

Now a statewide education reform group, the Metropolitan Education Commission, has chimed in with a similar proposal, calling for spending an additional $628 million a year on education. MEC calculated that it would take about $900 per child to offer equal educational opportunities across Maryland.

There is broad consensus on what needs to be done. And there's no shortage of ideas or idealism. Maryland in fact has everything it needs to actually put such a program in place -- everything, that is, except dollars. With the current expected downturn in the local economy, a taxpayer revolt against rising property taxes and assessments and an uncertain fiscal outlook for the next few years, legislators are in no mood to risk voter displeasure by passing ambitious new spending programs. As a result, the gap between what the richest and poorest jurisdictions can afford to spend on education remains more than $60,000 a year for a typical class of 30 children.

Maryland must find a way to address these inequities if it is to successfully meet the challenges of the 21st century. Neither the state nor the nation can afford the massive waste of human potential represented by an undereducated work force and citizenry. The education funding gap will grow even larger if things are left to themselves. The poorer subdivisions then might feel they had no choice but to resort to the courts for relief -- a course that almost certainly would provoke a legislative backlash in some unknown form that could leave them worse off than before. It would be far preferable to craft a political compromise that results in a more equitable system; but the legislature can never accomplish this as long as it persists in the belief that ignoring the issue will make it go away.

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