Change proposed in school funding State would give poorer districts major aid increase

October 29, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

A governor's advisory commission gave its preliminary approval yesterday to a plan that would change the way the state funds education, targeting tens of millions of dollars more toward poorer school districts, including Baltimore.

Under the proposal, Maryland's nearly $2 billion budget for local schools -- already scheduled to go up by $634 million over the next five years -- would rise an additional $291 million.

No jurisdiction would receive less state aid than it is getting this year under the proposal, authored by state Dels. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, and Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's.

However, over the next five years, four counties -- Kent, Montgomery, Talbot and Worcester -- would receive less money than they otherwise would under current law.

At the same time, poorer jurisdictions including Prince George's County and Baltimore would receive significantly more money.

One reason for the change is that the plan would cap state funding of retirement benefits at the amount scheduled for fiscal 1995. Consequently, a wealthy county like Montgomery with higher teacher salaries would receive a lot less money than is currently scheduled.

In fact, Montgomery County would suffer the most under the plan, receiving $6.6 million less over the next five years than it is scheduled to receive under the current funding law. By contrast, Baltimore would receive $59 million more over the same time period.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer named the commission in May to recommend changes in how the state divides the school aid it sends to Baltimore and Maryland's 23 counties. The commission plans to

send its proposal to local school districts for comment Thursday and to hold public hearings around the state later in the month.

Commission members emphasized that as a result of those hearings, they may decide to change the proposal.

By early December, they hope to have a final report for Mr. Schaefer to consider as he prepares his budget and legislative proposals for the General Assembly, which convenes in January.

Yesterday, legislators serving on the 22-member panel -- which overwhelmingly approved the proposal by a show of hands -- offered a glimpse of the controversy such a plan would surely generate if it were proposed by the governor.

"It's just another hit for Montgomery County," said state Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, who voted against the plan.

Mr. Levitan, the chairman of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee, said that the proposal for large spending increases would require a major tax increase.

"If you vote for this package, you are obviously voting for a tax increase somewhere in the next few years," he said.

But Mr. Maloney argued that the plan could pass if suburban legislators could be convinced that poorerjurisdictions would spend their additional money wisely.

"I don't think the legislature will just throw more money into the schools," he said.

To that end, the commission also endorsed an incentive program that would give merit grants to the best-performing schools in the state.

The commission also endorsed proposed regulations, which are already in the works, under which state education officials could take over the management of schools with poor academic performance.

Bonnie Kirkland, the governor's chief legislative officer, said Mr. Schaefer would wait for public input and a final draft before making a decision on the plan.

Under yesterday's plan, the state would use a new model for dividing its aid for local schools. Currently, about two-thirds of state aid for local schools is awarded in a way that favors poorer jurisdictions. Under the new model, that proportion would rise to about three-fourths.

The model was first proposed by the state superintendent of schools, Nancy S. Grasmick.

The commission is chaired by Donald P. Hutchinson, a former Baltimore County Executive and now president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Its members include professional educators, key legislators and children's advocates.

PROPOSED PLAN

A governor's advisory commission yesterday proposed:

* Targeting a greater percentage of state aid to poor school districts

* Raising Maryland's nearly $2 billion budget for schools by an extra $291 million over five years

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