Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg last night threw his political support behind efforts to restructure the way Maryland funds education to help students in poor subdivisions like Baltimore catch up with their peers in wealthier parts of the state.
Mr. Steinberg made his statements last night before about 350 supporters of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), an activist group that has long targeted inequities in state education.
At the same meeting, held at St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Church in Northeast Baltimore, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called for a special session of the General Assembly to meet before November and address the problem.
Mayor Schmoke added that state Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. and BUILD representatives would be meeting at his City Hall office today to discuss the education funding issue.
"This is not a city issue or a poor peoples' issue," Mr. Schmoke said. "If we're going to have a great state we must have great education. This is going to be a tough battle -- it involves money and it involves taxes. We're going to have to invest in human beings. That's what it's all about."
The mayor was followed to the podium by Mr. Steinberg, who said: "We cannot afford to do otherwise" than make educational funding equal. "The impact if we don't address human needs now will be manyfold down the road."
Mr. Steinberg said yesterday's gloomy fiscal news from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who announced 1,766 layoffs and extensive budget cuts, should not prevent legislators from rectifying current inequities in education spending.
"Now is not the time to criticize or place blame on the governor or legislature," he said. "We must return to the process and we must decide what we don't want to happen, and then review each agency and look to every alternative that does not do violence to our goals."
BUILD leaders said that Mr. Steinberg's support would be a great help in the upcoming General Assembly session if legislators from Baltimore City are pitted against politicians from wealthier suburban counties in the fight to redistribute educational dollars. They cited the Maryland Constitution, which states that efficient and effective education is the right of all Maryland schoolchildren.
"The delegations outside of Baltimore and the poor rural districts have consistently voted against equity funding," said Arnie Graf, a national consultant to the BUILD group and one of its founders.
"We were supposed to get a big chunk of money for education this year and now they claim they have no money. We want to restructure the formula used to fund individual school systems so we are not at the whim of annual budgets."