For more than a year now, proposed budget cuts have drawn fire from affected constituencies. State troopers and advocates for the poor marched on Annapolis. Government workers and teachers have complained bitterly about having to forgo pay raises. Yet the Howard County Board of Education's odd response when groups opposed cuts in the county's Black Student Achievement Program seems out of sync.
Last month, BSAP supporters showed up at a county budget hearing to protest cuts that could sorely tax the program's reach and effectiveness. They weren't shy. A handful of parents and children picketed outside board offices while advocates peppered the board with impassioned pleas to keep the program whole, alluding in some cases to recent racial incidents in county schools.
The board reacted defensively, saying it felt threatened and intimidated. Said Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna, "I heard, if you cut any of this, you're a racist." No such words were ever uttered.
Board member Susan J. Cook told the group to "do your homework and find out what we're doing and what the surrounding counties are doing." Yet affected groups across the state are going to the mat to protect threatened programs and services. Why should any less be expected of parents and students who support BSAP?
What the board should be doing is taking a look at what the program has achieved. Scholastic Aptitude Test verbal scores of black students in some categories have now outpaced scores of comparable white and Asian students.
In the past year alone, the percentage of black grade-schoolers taking one or more gifted and talented class has risen to 14 percent from 11 percent. More than one-fifth of all black middle school students participate in the program.
Of the 16 county schools involved in BSAP, the number of students with grade point averages shy of 2.0 has declined precipitously. Conversely, the number of students with averages of 3.5 percent or better has in some cases tripled.
Clearly, this program is producing outstanding results. The school board should put aside its overreaction to the protests and examine BSAP on its merits. Emotionalism ought to give way to a careful examination of the program's worth. Cuts are needed in the education budget, but let's not make cuts that can hurt kids for a lifetime.