Realistic school-aid package

December 23, 1993

You can't blame Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, for the frustration he displayed after a gubernatorial commission scaled down its plans for overhauling and enlarging Maryland's school-aid program. "The commission owes it to itself, to the children and to the governor to provide the best recommendations we can make," the Senate minority leader and panel member said. Reporting out a slimmer package of suggestions is intellectually dishonest.

But this more modest approach does have the advantage of being politically realistic. In a big election year, few legislators had voiced support for a major injection of new money into the public school systems of this state that would require an extra $332 million over the next five years. It was viewed as a dead issue.

Even Gov. William Donald Schaefer, while giving strong support to the objectives laid out by the education-aid commission, concluded that Maryland's weak economy won't provide him with enough new tax money in the next fiscal year to underwrite a major increase in local school aid. His pessimism was borne out by the very modest recovery projected for 1994 and 1995 by the Board of Revenue Estimates in its annual report to Mr. Schaefer last week.

Political opposition to the school-aid changes -- especially among Montgomery County lawmakers -- was strong. So a compromise was reached: The commission cut its initial first-year request for additional aid from $69 million to $47 million. The governor's budgetary problems may not even allow him to go that far.

As part of the final recommendations, panel members asked the governor to include $20 million in new aid for schools with large numbers of poor children. This will help the city and other impoverished jurisdictions somewhat. It is at least recognition that the greatest need in Maryland's public schools is to improve the education performance of kids who come from the lowest rungs on the economic ladder.

Next year is not the time for an overhaul of state school aid. But education will be a big issue in the upcoming race for governor. Maryland cannot delay revamping its public school assistance approach much longer without running the risk that a federal court will force Draconian changes on the next governor and legislature. It is happening in other states.

We urge Mr. Schaefer and state lawmakers to adopt the limited plans outlined by the education commission for next year as a jumping-off point for future action. To paraphrase Senator Cade, we owe it to ourselves and to our children.

5/8

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