Schools need a rallying cry

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

February 28, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Baltimore has had several great slogans in recent years.

We were exhilarated by William Donald Schaefer's "Baltimore is Best" -- so exhilarated, in fact, that we tossed aside our civic inferiority complex.

Then, we were inspired by Kurt Schmoke's "The City that Reads" -- so inspired that we launched an unprecedented communitywide push to encourage our friends and neighbors and relatives to pick up a book.

Now, we need a new rallying cry for Charm City, something that will exhilarate us and inspire us and move us to action.

I suggest the following: "Litigate! Litigate! Litigate 'til they howl!"

This is something we can chant and sing and cry as we haul the state into the closest court on a charge of cheating our children of a quality education.

"Litigate! Litigate! Litigate 'til they howl!"

Rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

Baltimore has been trying for at least a decade to persuade the state to close the yawning gulf that separates the resources available to the city's school system from its suburban neighbors.

For at least a decade, city students literally have been cheated of a competitive education by a state funding system that rewards the rich jurisdictions and makes beggars of the poor.

Last year, a study by the Abell Foundation found that every time the legislature has tampered with the state spending formulas for education, the city has fallen further behind.

Just last week, state officials hinted that they may have to cut back on the money promised for the 1992 school year through the APEX program.

APEX, enacted with much fanfare and self-congratulation by the legislature in 1987, had been touted as a five-year plan to funnel massive new funds into beleaguered school districts, with the biggest increases targeted for 1992 and 1993. The state now says it may not have the money to make good on its promises.

Meanwhile, legislators concede that the recommendations of the Linowes Commission, which city officials had hoped would create new revenues that could be used for programs like education, have little chance of being enacted this year.

Take away APEX and Linowes and you leave the city with few options.

Consider as proof of this, the desperation bill just introduced by Del. Paul Weisengoff, D-City, and three other city legislators that would require the state to assume control of Baltimore's school system.

Even Weisengoff admitted that his proposal was mostly for effect.

"I'm trying to get a forum where we can point out that we have a problem and point out that the state has a responsibility here," Weisengoff said yesterday. "It looks bleak for the city down here, but we're going to do anything we can to dramatize the situation.

"In any event," he added, "if the state took over, we would be better off than we are right now."

Not surprisingly, the mayor not only is against the idea, he's against the idea even for purposes of effect.

"Clearly, the state has an important role, but not in controlling, but in establishing the mechanism to provide equal funding," Schmoke said.

"We can do the job," he continued. "We recognize that we've got to get our house in order, resolve the superintendent situation, establish a clear agenda. But we're going to do that. The school board, I believe, already has established a clear agenda. Now, the state must live up to its responsibilities."

The mayor's right.

The people of Baltimore are, or at least should be, a proud and sovereign people. Surrendering control of their schools would be tantamount to surrendering part of their sovereignty. Not only that, it would be surrender to a body that already has proven itself either hostile or indifferent to the city's interests.

Baltimore would end up as much a lost colony as Washington, a city held captive by a hostile Congress.

For that matter, it is just as unseemly for a proud and sovereign people to keep begging the state for help when it is obvious the state is not going to respond.

Maryland has a responsibility to provide equal educational opportunities to all of its students. The courts, both here and elsewhere, have affirmed that responsibility. Nobody denies that right now Maryland is not doing the job.

So I say, sue 'em.

I say, get off your knees, Baltimore, and haul the state into the closest court.

I say (and you can repeat after me): "Litigate! Litigate! Litigate 'til they howl!"

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