Fairness, not equity, should be goal

May 10, 1994

It must seem like a cruel juxtaposition to some public officials in Howard that just as the county faces the challenges of funding the construction of new, well-stocked schools, it is also at last being forced to confront the disparity between the school system's new and older facilities.

Equity is the catchword, but that may be neither an accurate description nor a necessary result. Fairness is the essential ingredient, coupled with commitment and consistency.

The quest for "technology equity," the title given the effort to put more computers in older schools, has become the newest sacrificial lamb of the annual budget battle between county government and the school system.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker has slashed the Board of Education budget request by $4.3 million.

School administrators, in turn, have responded that the cut jeopardizes their computer goals. Those goals, unfortunately, are as half-baked as they are half-heartedly being pursued by the administrators.

No true priority for school officials would be so quickly eliminated in a crunch. Furthermore, the school system is pushing its program without having made publicly available the inventory upon which its spending plans are based.

This may be part of the budget-deliberation game, but it is a cynical approach to school funding.

School officials should know better, but county officials are no less guilty of taking the low road; Mr. Ecker and council members have engaged in a debate over whether computer purchases should come ahead of road construction projects, pitting commuters against parents, as if the two were mutually exclusive.

If this is an attempt to show which program has the largest constituency, it is a silly way of setting priorities, particularly where school children are concerned.

When it comes to computers in county schools, equity is not the issue. There will never be an equal number of computers at all schools.

But the system can and should establish a minimum standard for each school. Achieving and maintaining that standard should be given the highest priority, not the ill-planned and meager backing it is getting now.

Producing computer-literate graduates, like fairness, should be sacrosanct.

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