State offers new way to divide school money Plan would raise Baltimore's share

September 30, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

Maryland's superintendent of schools proposed a new way to distribute state education money yesterday that could mean tens of millions of dollars to poor school districts such as Baltimore.

During a presentation before the Governor's Commission on School Funding, Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick emphasized that her proposal was preliminary. She also said that funding amounts she used for each county were just examples of how the new formula might work.

Despite that caveat, it was clear there would be winners and losers if her proposal were enacted.

One scenario called for an increase in state education funding to $2.3 billion next year, up $438 million from this year. Under that scenario, Baltimore would receive about $92 million more in state money through Dr. Grasmick's formula -- while Montgomery County would lose about $43 million. Two other counties, Talbot and Worcester, also would lose money.

Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a commission member who also chairs a House education subcommittee, pointed out that scenario was politically untenable.

"There is no way the General Assembly is going to take $43 million from one subdivision in a single year," said Mr. Maloney, a Prince George's County Democrat.

In a second scenario in which state aid would total $2.5 billion, Dr. Grasmick's proposal would send Baltimore an additional $104 million and Montgomery an extra $17 million. Only Worcester would lose money -- about $387,000.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer named the commission last May to recommend changes in how the state divides the roughly $2 billion in school aid it currently sends to Baltimore and Maryland's 23 counties. But legislative observers believe the panel also will recommend that the state spend more on education.

Dr. Grasmick's proposed new funding model is a major departure from the past. Currently, the state calculates school funding based on a complicated system that takes into account a district's enrollment, wealth and past budgets.

The proposed formula comes at the issue from a different angle. It sets a level of funding necessary for schools to meet state education standards established in 1990. The standards measure students' skills in reading, writing and mathematics, among other things.

The state Department of Education has suggested the base figure to reach those goals is $5,665 or $5,206 per child, depending on the funding scenario used.

The superintendent said the figures were derived by looking at the average cost of educating a student in Howard, Carroll and Frederick counties.

The state chose those counties because they are at or near the top in school performance standards and have a small percentage of poor and special-education students, who cost more to educate.

The state would build upon the per-child base rate by sending local school systems additional money for special-education students, children who speak English as a second language, and poorer students.

Commission members seemed generally pleased with yesterday's proposal, but also said many issues still need work.

"This is a remarkable compilation of new ideas," said commission member Arthur Boyd, the executive director of the Maryland Education Coalition. "I'm sure we'll make changes."

Commission members asked the superintendent's staff to return with a framework to make sure the money is well-spent. Some members specifically want to see a series of rewards and sanctions for those districts who manage their money well.

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