Blount's Hollow Defense

March 18, 1994

State Sen. Clarence Blount of Baltimore has long been able to fend off reform of Maryland's legislative scholarship program by claiming minority students would suffer if minority lawmakers, such as Mr. Blount, lost the power to award college aid.

But last year the state issued a report that let all the air out of the senator's argument. It showed that minority students receive more financial assistance from the state's need-oriented Scholarship Administration than from lawmakers. This finding explains why the Maryland chapter of the NAACP and Mr. Blount's own black college fraternity, the prestigious Alpha Phi Alpha, have joined the movement to shift the legislators' kitty to the Scholarship Administration's control.

Yet Mr. Blount, the chairman of the committee considering the measure, has continued his hollow defense, even delaying a hearing on the reform proposal until the last possible date. Confronted with the results of the state study, the senator simply says he doesn't believe them. He implies that reform would lead to a bonanza for students without need -- as if that hasn't been the case all along. For years, legislators have typically given grants to students who didn't require the help. Meanwhile, needier students have been ignored.

One such student was Renee Baylin, a University of Maryland College Park senior who testified in favor of the reform bill before Mr. Blount's panel. Despite good grades, involvement in her community and a family income below $50,000, Ms. Baylin was turned down for legislative aid. She learned first-hand the dirty secret of the scholarship program: Students from richer families get scholarships because their folks are politically connected.

The time is long past to put an end to this shameful political perk, in which senators and delegates annually hand out millions of taxpayer dollars to the children of associates, friends and relatives. It is time for Mr. Blount to stop playing this undemocratic game whereby one man controls the fate of important legislation. He must act to bring the bill to a committee vote and then to a vote on the Senate floor. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller should insist upon it.

The House, for the second year in a row, has voted to abolish legislative scholarships. But because the scholarship program is sweet a patronage scam for senators, that chamber's members have fought to preserve it. Public sentiment for reform has grown in recent years. Those who buck the trend do so at their own peril.

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