Schmoke takes appeal for schools to Congress

August 04, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Urban school systems exist in "a universe of shrinking resources, neglect and inequality," a situation that threatens national security, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in Washington yesterday.

Testifying at the third in a series of subcommittee hearings on equity in school funding, Mr. Schmoke urged Congress to increase education spending and address funding differences between rich and poor communities.

"The principal tools that local government now uses to finance its schools are inadequate and becoming more so," the mayor said in a statement prepared for the Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities.

Baltimore "is pulling itself forward in spite of being chained to an antiquated system of financing," he said.

Mr. Schmoke delivered his prepared remarks in abbreviated form to Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., the only senator present for the hearing.

Mr. Schmoke noted that Baltimore has Maryland's highest dropout rate and largest classes. The city's schools also have chronic supply shortages, large numbers of low-income and handicapped students, and poor student performance, he said.

"It brings me no joy to share these numbers with you . . . but they are the bitter harvest of years of neglect," Mr. Schmoke said.

Though the federal government has increased school aid in recent years, "that increase . . . does not begin to redress the problems caused by the antiquated system that most states and localities use to fund local schools," he said.

In Baltimore, he noted, about one-third of this year's $617.2 million school budget comes from stagnant local property and income taxes.

While the city has increased its support for schools by 23.8 percent since 1989, it still spends $60,000 less per classroom each year than the state's wealthiest jurisdiction, Mr. Schmoke said.

"To the extent that financing public education through local property taxes fosters this kind of two-tier public education system, I hope this committee and Congress work to balance out the inequities," he said.

But he conceded that "federal money is not the sole answer to the problems of urban education," and cited a parallel need for innovative ways to use available funds.

Among his examples: Baltimore's "Tesseract" experiment, which put nine city schools in the hands of a private contractor; and the hiring of Sylvan Learning Systems, a private firm, to run federally funded tutoring programs at six schools.

The mayor's comments come at a time when a 22-member commission appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer is studying Maryland's method of financing public education, with a report expected this fall.

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