Sure, the $118 million allocated for public school construction by Gov. Parris Glendening and the Board of Public Works is the largest amount in 20 years. And a considerable sum is going to high-growth counties such as Howard and Montgomery for advancing their own funds to accelerate the building of new schools.
But the big development out of the Annapolis meeting yesterday was the dramatic shift in emphasis by the state to upgrade aging schools in established communities rather than build new schools in the hinterland that merely encourage unwise population sprawl.
Last year, under former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, roughly half of Maryland's school construction money went for brand-new schools and half was earmarked for renovating older schools in the city and counties. But this year, under Governor Glendening, school renovations accounted for nearly three-quarters of the funds.
Eighty percent of all planning money for future schools also was allocated for older, established education buildings. State officials now want local education boards to improve and enlarge existing public schools instead of building from scratch in a far-off corn field.
This is a welcome shift. One reason for suburban (and urban) flight from older neighborhoods is the physical decline of the local schools. Leaking roofs, cracked windows, ancient boilers, rundown conditions.
It's tough to improve the education climate in such physically deteriorating classrooms.
But what if these older schools get a face lift, thanks to the state?
What if local education boards are given the money by the state to make more timely routine repairs and to rebuild inadequate auditoriums, cafeterias, gymnasiums and science labs? What if high-tech language labs could be added on? Such renovations could stabilize surrounding neighborhoods and persuade parents to stay put.
The governor deserves credit for this change in direction. It is a wise investment of state funds. In the long run, school renovations should prove more cost-effective than erecting new schools from the ground up.
And if Mr. Glendening succeeds in devising a procedure that permits older schools to purchase new computers, science equipment and teaching aids as part of any state-paid renovation, the impact on learning in these schools could be magnified many times.
Strengthening existing communities by improving aging schools should produce big benefits, both for the students and for their parents.