School aid spells politics Elections: The governor is the most visible politician to dangle education money in areas where he wants to secure votes. But one worries the aid will be governable only by laws of the political jungle.

The Political Game

October 21, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

THEY CALL IT state aid for education, using lofty phrases such as "equity funding" and "at-risk children," but they're talking base politics -- the elections of 1998.

Among practicing politicians, observers and reasonably astute educators, the assumptions go like this:

Because Prince George's County voters are essential to his re-election hopes next year, Gov. Parris N. Glendening proposed a whopping quarter-billion dollars in state education aid to make these voters happy enough to forget the $100 million deficit he left them when, in 1994, he left the county executive's office to become governor.

Under criticism from a variety of quarters, Glendening stepped away from that offer, but dangled $40 million in school construction aid as he did so.

Simultaneously, he appeared ready to bestow millions in school construction dollars on Montgomery County, another jurisdiction with many votes at risk for him in the coming election.

Other state officials fretted that these blandishments would undermine apolitical processes and commissions and boards designed to provide objective analysis of actual need -- as

opposed to decisions based heavily on political needs.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., for one, has said he worries that politics and parochialism will make aid to education governable only by laws of the political jungle. He predicted a damaging spiral in which the larger, politically powerful jurisdictions eclipse all others.

No one stepped forward to echo the speaker's statesmanlike plea.

Now comes Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan with an aid plan of his own, the sort one might expect from a governor -- which Duncan may well hope to be in some year after 1998.

Duncan wants more than money. He wants to rewrite the whole approach. He would have the state's money apportioned on criteria that go beyond the usual benchmark of poverty. His plan would factor in aging school buildings, disabled students, immigrant populations and overall enrollments -- factors that would benefit his county.

Most daring of all, Duncan would distribute almost none of this money to Baltimore -- the poorest of the state's 24 subdivisions and, traditionally, the big "winner" in the annual Annapolis sweepstakes.

His logic? Last year, Baltimore got $250 million over five years to boost its per-pupil spending average a bit closer to that of wealthier counties. The city's leverage came from a court order and the prospect that, without action by the governor and the Assembly, a judge might order an even higher payout.

Duncan's proposal might well be considered by the commission set up after last spring's General Assembly adjournment by Taylor. Glendening has representatives on that panel -- as does Baltimore.

In another year, a county executive such as Duncan might have offered his views quietly to the commission and let it work its will. Not now, though.

Watch for funding formulas from Howard, Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. They've all got big blocs of votes to barter, too.

Former attorney general plans Rehrmann fund-raiser

If she's to make a run for governor against Glendening, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann needs visibility and money.

She'll get some of both Nov. 1, when former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs and his wife, Sheila, hold a $250 per ticket fund-raising cocktail party for her at their home in Cross Keys.

"We're for Eileen," Steve Sachs said yesterday. "I like her. I know her. She was in the Assembly when I was attorney general. She used to ask hard questions about my budget. She's tough, she's good and she's classy."

Sachs said he finds Rehrmann a stronger Democratic candidate against the likely Republican nominee, Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

"Our party would be stronger with her at the head. I think we can do better. I think there is a general dissatisfaction with Glendening. I think he's never caught on as a leader. He's remarkably unpopular for an incumbent. I think that reflects a general sense that he's still kind of a county executive. He's not been or seen as gubernatorial."

And Rehrmann? "She projects a kind of rigorous honesty and integrity that I think resonates. She's seen as tough and not waffly. And she's a woman. Those three things make her the best candidate against Sauerbrey."

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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