ANNAPOLIS -- The Schaefer administration, short of funds needed to pay for new initiatives this year, may ask the General Assembly to pay for proposed improvements to the public schools with money counties are already expecting to receive without strings attached.
The proposal, according to lawmakers and administration sources, who did not want to be named because the governor has not yet announced the plan, would mean that some of the money destined for Baltimore and the 23 counties under the state's school aid program known as APEX would be earmarked to help pay for mandatory kindergarten and a new accountability program that would apply performance standards to all public schools.
Under the APEX formula established by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1987, the 24 jurisdictions are expected to receive $878 million from the state for public schools in the coming budget year, an $82 million increase over this year. The increase in the following fiscal year is expected to be more than twice that amount as the state reaches the APEX goal of supporting 75 percent of the cost of basic education in Maryland.
The proposal to earmark how some of that infusion of cash will be spent is expected to be controversial with local school boards, which would lose some of their discretion in spending.
Administration officials declined to discuss the proposal, although Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, Paul E. Schurick, acknowledged: "The governor has committed himself to education reform. He has made it quite clear for some time that he intends to move ahead with innovative ideas to improve education."
Legislators who had heard about the proposal, and local school officials who had not, gave it mixed reviews.
William Ecker, school superintendent in Caroline County, said the APEX funds were intended to raise the level of state aid for schools.
"APEX is supposed to be catch-up money, but they're telling us you have to spend it here and here and here. Nobody in this state knows more of what Caroline County needs than our staff and our board of education and our parents," he said.
Similarly, Dr. R. Wayne Carmena, assistant superintendent of instruction in Cecil County, said such a proposal "will certainly impact on the flexibility that we would have currently to using that APEX money . . . without any strings attached."
Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said, "I don't really want to see the commitment to APEX watered down, but by the same token some of the things [state school Superintendent] Joe Shilling is trying to do are important."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, called the proposal evidence that the governor wanted accountability from public schools, and said, "I don't fault him for that."
But House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, questioned whether the state will even be able to afford to meet its obligations under the APEX formula.
"To deal with the budget problems, we'll have to put everything, or nearly everything, on the table, if not for cuts, at least for examination for cuts," he said.