Giveaways endanger school accord Governor's promises: Something-for-everyone list blurs focus on goals.

December 20, 1996

ONE OF Gov. Parris N. Glendening's top priorities is to improve the quality of education in Maryland. An essential part of that goal is the success of the state's school reform effort to set high standards and push schools everywhere in the state to meet or exceed them.

It was clear from the beginning of the reform process that the ultimate test of political will would come in Baltimore City. There is no quick or easy fix for schools that must educate many of the poorest and most troubled youngsters in the state. But until Maryland comes to grips with those difficulties by providing more money as well as imposing accountability and management reforms, the success of school reform will leave the city at the starting gate.

Now that there is a negotiated settlement to multiple lawsuits asking for more state aid as well as management changes for city schools, there is hope for a swift infusion of new funds, new energy and new confidence in the ability of city schools to succeed at an exceedingly difficult task. But there's one last obstacle -- legislative approval -- and with his Christmas tree announcements of the past few weeks Governor Glendening has put that in doubt.

A 10-percent income-tax cut is sure to please the business community. But combine that with other promises, such as generous salary increases for state troopers, promises of free tuition for B-average students, free health care for children and pregnant women earning up to $38,000 a year, and legislators get nervous -- with good reason. After a couple of years, the tax cut alone creates a gigantic gap in the state budget, never mind all the other initiatives.

Governors like to please enough people to get re-elected. But in this case, the governor may be so eager to please everyone that he satisfies no one -- while putting at risk a schools settlement that can speed improvements for city children. If it's giveaway time, why should other jurisdictions support an infusion of aid for Baltimore, when they see plenty of needs in their own schools?

Deals like that pass only when leaders are relentless in keeping their priorities in focus.

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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