Stretching state dollars for schools Glendening plan: Costly piecemeal approach best handled through statewide study.

September 02, 1997

"RIGHT NOW, we are failing our children. . . .Our current failure to invest in our children's future forces us to make false choices, between funding Montgomery County or Baltimore City, between funding programs for learning-disabled children or for gifted and talented children. We must not shortchange the future of any child."

That's how Parris N. Glendening viewed public education when running for governor in 1994. He called for investments in magnet schools and neighborhood schools throughout Maryland. But at the moment, he only seeks these investments for Prince George's County.

This piecemeal approach -- $250 million for P.G. over five years to help end court-ordered busing -- is creating political jealousies. It also seriously undercuts a task force Mr. Glendening agreed to set up with House Speaker Casper R. Taylor to recommend changes in the state's school-aid formula. Such an approach would earmark more funds for poor school children wherever they live.

There is no doubt Prince George's schools need to attack learning disparities at inner-beltway schools. Yet the situation hardly compares with Baltimore City's school mess that prompted a dramatic overhaul and a $254 million, five-year aid package. While P.G. schools are the second-worst performing in Maryland, their test scores are twice as high as Baltimore's. In many categories, Prince George's students rank about average statewide.

It may be premature to commit funds before a court ruling in October. There already is reluctance among state legislators to help a county whose own voters refused in 1994 to raise taxes to pay for better schools.

Moreover, P.G.'s school plan has yet to be scrutinized by state educators to see if it makes sense. Legislators are sure to question the plan's $450 million price-tag, which may mask the true cost: More students are in P.G. schools this semester than the plan projects for 2003.

Revamping Maryland's school-aid formula should be the basis for legislative action. It would help poor children regardless of where they live. The governor's proposal is creating unnecessary political divisions and ignores the plight of other state school systems.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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