Needy Student or a Union Boss' Kid? ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

March 22, 1993

Like other lawmakers under pressure for granting questionable state scholarships, Anne Arundel Sen. Philip Jimeno and Delegates W. Ray Huff and Charles W. Kolodziejski must know their political futures could depend on scholarship reform. Unfortunately, they seem less able to grasp that there is anything wrong with elected officials handing out money.

The North County lawmakers have been criticized for giving aid to the daughter of Tom Paolino, president of the county teacher's union, which endorsed all three. They deny this was a political reward, and we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. All three show a sincere interest in helping local residents; in Ms. Paolino, no doubt, they saw a good student from a middle-income family. But if they never considered that her father's position might create the impression of favoritism or subtly influence them to choose her over another, equally needy student, they should have.

Like many of their colleagues, they miss the point: No matter how many needy, deserving students they have helped, it is unethical for elected officials to hand out thousands of dollars to individual students as they see fit. The ramifications range from outright favoritism to residents who belong to one political party fearful of seeking aid from a politician from another party. Few lawmakers have been so stupid as to give awards to their relatives. However, even the most well-intentioned legislator, choosing between a needy neighbor and a student they have never met, will lean toward the one he knows, even if the other's circumstances are more compelling.

But is it fair, Senator Jimeno asks, that any students who happen to go to his church or play ball with his children must be ruled out simply because they know him? Of course not -- another reason why lawmakers should not award scholarships. If the same students were chosen by the State Scholarship Administration, no one would think twice.

The local lawmakers say they are willing to turn scholarship disbursement over to someone else, as long as the money remains in their districts and middle-income students are not excluded. These are reasonable requests. The legislators would lose their ability to play Santa and an opportunity to help their re-election chances, but it's a perk they never should have had in the first place.

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