More aid for local schools?

April 28, 1993

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is on the right track in pushin for a new formula for distributing more state aid to local school systems. Without extra financial support from the state, the yawning gap between the best-financed and the worst-financed schools would continue to grow. That is unacceptable.

Every child in Maryland ought to have access to a quality, comprehensive public education. That's not the case now. In some jurisdictions, especially Baltimore City, students are clearly being shortchanged.

This severely handicaps these kids in later years. They don't have the basic learning skills to go on to college or to gain well-paying jobs. Unless this situation is addressed, Maryland won't be able to supply the labor pool for high-tech industries of the future. This state's economic growth could be severely impaired.

A boost in state education aid, with strings attached, is clearly in order. Students should be assured of sound schooling whether they live in St. Mary's County, Garrett County, Kent County, Prince George's County, Howard County, Montgomery County or Baltimore City. Not only must the rich-poor disparity be narrowed substantially, but the state has an obligation to help public schools with large numbers of non-English speaking students or disabled students in need of special education.

And any school that is clearly failing to do the job ought to be taken over by the state until it is brought up to speed. Already, 27 public schools -- 16 of them in Baltimore City but also seven in Montgomery County and four in Prince George's County -- have been listed as deeply troubled. Unless local educators accelerate efforts to make improvements at these schools, the State Board of Education should draw up provisions for a temporary takeover. That would be a potent -- and highly embarrassing -- threat. It could be just what is needed to force local educators to take strong remedial action in a hurry.

It won't be easy to win General Assembly approval for a new school aid plan, especially in 1994, which is an election year and also Governor Schaefer's last year in office. Coming up with the hundreds of millions of extra dollars to pay for such a plan will be a daunting task, too. But a combination of additional education money and tough accountability standards might make it an attractive legislative package next year. It is worth the governor's time and energy to appoint a commission to draw up a school-aid plan tailored for quick enactment that gives Maryland's students -- wherever they live -- access to quality public schools.

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