Suing for school resources Education funding: New lawsuit underscores city's lack of clout in Annapolis

September 21, 1995

CONSIDERING MAYOR Kurt L. Schmoke's repeated boasts about having "a friend in the State House," Baltimore City's attempt to use the courts to force the state to come up with tens of millions of dollars more a year in aid for public schools would seem incongruous. Couldn't true friends settle this matter without litigation?

While the long-planned suit may be a bit embarrassing so shortly after Gov. Parris N. Glendening's endorsement of Mr. Schmoke, the 36-page complaint is nothing personal. It is the city's acknowledgment that while the governor may be friendly, Baltimore no longer has enough clout in the General Assembly to achieve required changes in school funding through political means. Lacking sympathetic legislators and unable to mobilize masses of taxpayer lobbyists, the courts are the city's only hope to gain additional resources essential for an "adequate" education for its children.

The legal outcome is uncertain. The political outcome most likely will not be more empathy for Baltimore. With the school system's administration in disarray, legislators are not going to welcome a law suit that seeks to release a $5.8 million allocation the General Assembly withheld in the spring because of its concerns about mismanagement of the city schools.

Baltimore's suit is also a defensive gambit against the possibility that an earlier school funding suit filed against the state by the American Civil Liberties Union might find the city public school system incompetent in the delivery of education services. Since the two suits will be heard together, the city can argue its case, blaming inadequate state funding for administrative shortcomings that may be caused by unrelated reasons.

ACLU wants the courts to take a comprehensive look at the causes of inferior performance, be they poor teacher training or a lack of resources or mismanagement. If a lack of "adequacy" is established, the judge could order corrective measures not only from the state but from the city and school administrations.

The city's suit is an act of political desperation which will win no new friends for Baltimore among Maryland legislators.

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