New School-Aid Fix?

May 01, 1993

Is it time for another school-aid fix? Gov. William Donald Schaefer thinks so. He's naming another commission to consider changes in state education funding. Something must be done to close the growing disparity gap between the amount wealthy and poor jurisdictions spend on each student.

Yet adding more money to the education pot will not, by itself, solve the problem. Localities have to be made more accountable for how they spend education aid. Simply using extra cash to raise teacher salaries, a tactic used by many jurisdictions when state aid was increased previously, hasn't led to any measurable improvement in the classroom. State officials need an aid program that forces local school leaders to achieve better classroom results -- or face the consequences.

Maryland already sends $1.9 billion to local school systems under a variety of formulas that tend to favor less affluent counties and Baltimore City. But the tilt is so slight that the spending gap between the poorest and richest counties has widened over the last ten years. It now amounts to nearly $70,000 per classroom.

Any new formula must focus on students receiving inadequate education -- regardless of where they live. Money should be aimed at helping these floundering students, not simply pumping more money into a particular jurisdiction. For instance, shrinking the spending disparity between rich and poor counties is vital, but so is increased aid for schools with large numbers of non-English speaking students and more help for students who are disabled and require special education.

Mr. Schaefer also wants the state to take control of schools that perform poorly. That would be the ultimate punishment for educators who can't get the job done themselves. It's the type of accountability threat legislators might well accept.

Every subdivision will have to benefit from a new aid formula for it to be politically viable in the General Assembly. That will be expensive. Coming up with such vast amounts of money -- easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- is a formidable task. But if the state's economy perks up late this year and strengthens early next year, the governor might have the cushion he needs for such an undertaking. It would be a fitting finale for Governor Schaefer's final year in office.

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