City task force opposes school vouchers Report also recommends freedom in enrollment

November 22, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

A mayoral task force recommended yesterday that Baltimore shun tax-funded school vouchers, and instead end neighborhood-based enrollment to improve public schools.

Coming on the eve of bigger changes in school management, it was unclear when or whether the task force's preliminary recommendations would be adopted.

The Mayor's Task Force on School Choice also recommended that Baltimore:

Open more magnet schools and programs to increase students' options for career and college preparatory education.

Propose state legislation to create publicly funded "charter schools" that would operate independent of city school board control.

The task force endorsed the coming creation of city-funded schools run by community and nonprofit groups. Last week, 38 citizen groups submitted proposals to open schools of their own design next year. Baltimore plans to open a small number of such schools in September.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday he remains enthusiastic about the school choice study, which he launched in February.

Still, he said, he cannot adopt the recommendations with a proposed management turnover on the horizon.

"I shouldn't," he said. "I don't think I ought to burden a new board and CEO with specific recommendations out of this report, but I have no reservations about presenting it to them as one of the most important reports they should consider."

However, he said he wants the public debate to continue.

The report will be presented at public forums scheduled Dec. 3 at Polytechnic Institute, Dec. 4 at Dunbar High School and Dec. 10 at Edmondson Westside High. All meetings will start at 6 p.m.

Although divided on the controversial subject of school vouchers, the task force ultimately decided that "now is not the time" to allow parents to spend coupons worth public dollars in private and parochial schools, said its chairman, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.

"The majority felt that the priority for the use of public funds should be the public school options that are being created," Mitchell said.

By increasing the number and quality of options from which families can choose, and by letting students apply to any school and not only to the one nearest to home, the task force hopes to encourage competition that will spur troubled schools to improve.

After nine months of public hearings and research, the task force finished its work on time but at an awkward moment -- just as the state and city tentatively agreed to replace the superintendent and school board, and to boost the school system's budget by $254 million over five years.

Officials are to sign that agreement Monday to settle several education lawsuits.

The proposed city-state pact calls on a new school board and school chief to draft a master plan to improve student achievement, and provides new aid that could be used for new magnet programs, members said.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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