The state "signals the wrong message" by cutting education programs at a critical time for school reform, according to Nancy S. Grasmick, state school superintendent.
Her comments came as state education officials surveyed the damage from $23.4 million in budget cuts announced yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Schaefer announced cuts in dropout prevention, prekindergarten and extended elementary school education and other programs that have been touted as being in the forefront of the state's reform efforts.
Also cut was funding for subsidized meals. State aid for institutions, such as the Maryland School for the Blind, the Baltimore Zoo and the National Aquarium, were slashed 25 percent.
Grasmick said the Maryland Department of Education was treated fairly in the latest round of cuts.
But she said the cuts will hurt important programs at a time when the state is working toward goals set by the federal government.
"These cuts give the wrong message about the priorities of education and the achievement of these goals," she said.
Education was sheltered from cuts to a large degree by state laws that mandate a certain funding level.
Mandated aid includes money that local jurisdictions use to cover expenses, aid for special education, fringe benefits for teachers and aid for at-risk youngsters.
But the budget ax bit deeply into other programs.
The governor ordered a 25 percent cut in non-mandated aid to education, a category that includes high-profile programs.
In particular, Grasmick voiced concern about $2.3 million in cuts to early childhood education.
"We know that program makes a great deal of difference in the academic careers of these children," she said. "This will be a severe blow to that. The only alternative will be for local jurisdictions to pick it up with local tax dollars."
Grasmick also said the budget cuts would mean "another serious setback" for a dropout prevention program that especially helps Baltimore.