State aid to school program cut Proposed 'Schools for Success' program would get only $3 million if it is approved.

March 15, 1991|By Marina Sarris and Mark Bomster | Marina Sarris and Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's "Schools for Success" program of initiatives for local schools would get only $3 million of its proposed $19 million funding as the result of a vote by a state Senate committee.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee yesterday killed a Schaefer administration bill that would have diverted $19 million in state aid to local schools to fund "Schools for Success."

The committee instead recommended that $3 million from another part of the state budget be earmarked to launch some of the initiatives, which include new tests to measure how well students are performing.

"Schools for Success" also would expand prekindergarten and teacher-training programs, collect various data on specific schools statewide and try to improve substandard schools and reward excellent ones, using special grants.

The governor wanted to push ahead with the ambitious program this year, but lawmakers disagreed with his funding method and preferred to proceed more slowly.

"We think Schools for Success has some validity, and we want to pursue it. We're still in the design phase," said Sen. Laurance Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairsman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

The Senate committee said it had found an extra $3 million in the state budget because the state had overestimated its payments to certain benefit sources, chiefly Social Security.

The Schaefer bill would have funded the initiatives by transferring $19 million from the local basic expense aid, part of the so-called Action Plan for Educational Excellence fund. The amount of the state's contribution for basic expenses is mandated by law, and the local school systems have broad discretion in how they spend that money.

Many local school officials, however, strongly opposed the siphoning of money from APEX, saying they know best how to spend state money within their jurisdictions.

"If we had come out with a favorable report on it, you would have had the whole world going bonkers," Levitan said.

State School Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling said the $3 million, if approved, would still allow the state to move forward with key parts of the plan.

Shilling said the money would launch new student achievement and performance tests, new systems to collect data on all schools that are part of the Maryland School Performance Program, expanded teacher-training programs and school improvement plans.

Yesterday's action by the Senate budget committee has not been approved by the House Appropriations Committee, which hasn't voted on the "Schools for Success" bill.

If the House of Delegates agrees, Shilling said, the reduced funding would delay some of the initiatives. It would mean, for example, the state could not expand prekindergarten programs this year. Some $6.6 million of those funds were to add programs at about 111 sites, said Shilling.

The state also would have to delay until the 1992-93 school year a program offering $300,000 incentive grants to schools having trouble meeting the state's school performance standards. In its first year, the grant program was to have cost about $8 million. Shilling said the department still plans to go ahead with the program in the future.

Shilling said the idea of using APEX money to fund the new school programs arose only after the state was unable to pay for those initiatives through other budget sources.

Caroline County school superintendent Bill Ecker, the legislative chairman for the school superintendents association, said local superintendents generally support the initiatives in the governor's bill but reject the funding method.

"It's like if I give you a Christmas present but . . . say, 'I'm going to take it from your salary,' " Ecker said.

Rosetta G. Kerr, a legislative specialist for Baltimore schools, was "very pleased" with the Senate committee's action. "I'm glad the state is moving ahead, but I'm glad they're not doing it at our expense," Kerr said.

Kerr noted that local jurisdictions already have drawn up their budgets in anticipation of a certain level of APEX funding. The governor's bill would have cost Baltimore about $2.9 million in APEX funds, according to a state teachers' association report.

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