A cynical ploy on slots and schools City-state partnership: Don't use children to plead the case for gambling.

August 01, 1996

IF GAMBLING proponents want to seek approval for slot machines in Maryland they must make a case that stands on its own, not one that rides on the backs of school children. Of all the cynical moves involving Baltimore City's public schools, the latest proposal -- legalizing slots in order to boost state education funding -- is the worst.

Until now, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has taken pains to broadcast his opposition to legalized gambling. Now it seems that his lofty stand is easily expendable.

The governor's private meeting with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last week produced different figures on the size of aid for city schools, with the mayor citing a much higher amount than the governor had suggested. Now we know where the difference lies -- the slots revenue from what the mayor says is a done deal.

For politicians with no principles, this is an easy call. Bring in the slots and relieve the pressure -- at least temporarily -- on state and city budgets. That removes the need to grapple with tough issues like right-sizing a bloated government or really fixing the schools rather than simply throwing money at them.

But the people of Maryland know a rotten deal when they see one. They know the difference between a cynical ploy that reeks of moral bankruptcy and the slow, difficult, steady course that will eventually produce well educated young people in Baltimore City.

Mr. Glendening now finds himself in a bind. He has made a great show of supporting a state education reform effort that has become the envy of the nation. But with one veto of a bill to force accountability on the city school system, he undercut that reform at a critical juncture. His 60-day deadline for a city-state schools partnership has produced nothing other than a handshake with the mayor that, apparently, is based on a secret deal to legalize slot machines all over Maryland -- a deal that is unacceptable.

Plaintiffs in two of the lawsuits involving Baltimore City schools say they are unsatisfied with the details of the agreement reported so far. Tuesday, the State Board of Education -- charged with setting education policies -- announced grave reservations about the reported agreement between the mayor and the governor. Meanwhile, lawmakers are preparing legislation to force a partnership acceptable to the General Assembly and to the courts.

Despite attempts to change the subject, the issue remains the same: How to ensure that children in city schools receive a better education. You can't do that by counting on a slot-machine jackpot.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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