No, Mr. Mayor Grasping at straws: Legalized gambling is no way to pay for schools.

July 27, 1996

IS MAYOR Kurt L. Schmoke so desperate to avoid accountability that he is willing to sell the city's soul for a bowl of empty promises? In advance of his meeting with Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to discuss a city-state schools partnership, Mr. Schmoke floated an astonishing idea -- legalizing gambling in Baltimore and channeling some of the profits into the city's troubled schools.

This is a terrible proposition, and the governor deserves credit for making that clear. For one thing, gambling revenues are not stable and predictable. What would happen when gambling revenues drop, as they inevitably do? Would the state mount an advertising campaign to urge citizens to gamble more so children can learn to read? No essential government service vTC should have to depend on gambling, especially not the schools.

Legalized gambling would alter the character of this city -- and damage its lucrative and carefully honed image as a family-friendly destination for tourists and an attractive location for conventions and other meetings. Why invest millions of dollars in a convention center, then taint Baltimore's appeal with gambling?

Worst of all, floating such a proposal simply changes the subject from the issue at hand: whether the city is willing to accept management accountability in the schools in return for increased state aid. Every school system wants more money. But the city's case is especially compelling, since it is charged with educating a high proportion of the state's poor children on a weakening tax base.

The dispute is not whether the state should increase its funding for city schools but whether, in return for more aid, the city is willing to be responsive to concerns about its management practices. For several years now, legislators have been specific in their criticisms and clear in their beliefs that, without improvements, the schools cannot use additional money effectively. In a state facing severe budgetary pressures, a request for accountability is not unreasonable -- and it is essential to getting legislative approval.

What is unfathomable is why a city like Baltimore should even consider trying to solve one problem -- the funding and management of its schools -- with as sinister a "solution" as gambling. The cost of ridding itself of that blot would make the schools' woes look simple by comparison.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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