Private schools seek $14 million of state's fiscal 1999 budget Lobbying effort comes as Catholics launch fund-raising campaign

December 18, 1997|By Mary Maushard and John Rivera | Mary Maushard and John Rivera,SUN STAFF


In an article in Thursday's editions of The Sun, the position of the Baltimore area's Jewish community regarding proposed state aid to private and religious schools was not clearly stated. Although several rabbis have expressed support for the proposal, the Baltimore Jewish Council is opposed to goverment aid for nonpublic schools.

Catholic leaders are again spearheading a campaign to get public money for private-school students by asking Gov. Parris N. Glendening to put $14 million in his budget for textbooks and technology in all nonpublic schools throughout the state.

Cardinal William H. Keeler and representatives of the Maryland Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the Catholic Church, as well as Jewish school leaders met with the governor this week to seek his support.

But a spokesman for the governor said last night that "it is too early to say what we may or may not be able to do" in the fiscal 1999 budget.

The private school initiative is "under consideration along with all the other school issues. There have been no final decisions made on any budget items," said Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann.

The effort to lobby for public funds for nonpublic schools comes even as the Archdiocese of Baltimore has undertaken an $80 million fund-raising campaign, the largest in its history. A large portion of the money would go to improve the archdiocese's schools and educational efforts.

Begun last spring, "The Heritage of Hope" campaign, which is soliciting donations from parishes, individuals and foundations, is the first archdiocesewide, capital fund-raising drive in 30 years.

Earlier effort failed

Last year, Catholic leaders failed to obtain public funds for nonpublic schools.

But this year, they are buoyed by a $260 million state budget surplus and the support they gained last year, when the Maryland Federation of Catholic-School Families dumped more than 6,000 letters in support of the aid on Glendening's desk.

At the time, the governor said the state could not afford the new spending, but he did not shut the door on the concept of indirect aid to private and parochial schools.

Per-student breakdown

The $14 million request for state funds breaks down to about $110 -- $50 for books and $60 for technology expansion -- for each of the 126,000 students in private and parochial schools around the state. About half those students attend the state's 179 Catholic schools, including those in the archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore and Maryland schools that are in the Diocese of Wilmington, Del.

Legal precedents for this type of state aid exist in 37 other states, and even in some Maryland counties, such as Howard and St. Mary's, which provide bus transportation for youngsters in parochial schools. Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey have long provided public money to nonpublic schools for transportation, textbooks, school nurses and other nonsectarian services.

Keeler said that U.S. Supreme Court decisions over the past 50 years have paved the way for public help, finding that it doesn't violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

But a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington yesterday decried those decisions, saying only one issue exists. "What does the First Amendment allow?" asked Robert Boston. "Our belief is that what the church is asking for is wrong."

"To be honest, there's no sense in trying to overturn decisions on school buses. But I think it's unthinkable to extend the aid when public schools aren't being fully funded."

Almost $54 million raised

As for the archdiocese's fund-raising campaign, Keeler said yesterday it has raised almost $54 million since starting in parishes in the spring. One family pledged $10 million, and five other families have pledged $1 million or more.

"The initial response has been just wonderful, even incredible," Keeler said at a news conference on the steps of the Basilica of the Assumption.

Parishes have been asked to raise $50 million of the $80 million, with each given a goal to meet. Families are being asked to pledge $5,000 over five years or $2,500 to $3,000 over three years. Each parish will keep 20 percent of what it raises, and 80 percent of anything beyond its goal.

The largest portion of the money raised -- $26 million -- will go to Catholic education and youth ministry, as follows:

$10 million will be raised from businesses and foundations for the Partners in Excellence program, which provides tuition assistance to inner-city Catholic school students.

$5 million will be used to establish the Endowment for Educational Excellence, which will provide grant funding to Catholic schools.

$4 million will be used to rehabilitate inner-city schools, many of which were built before the turn of the century. These schools are important as socially stabilizing institutions in impoverished neighborhoods, said Ronald J. Valenti, Catholic schools superintendent.

$4 million is earmarked as seed money to expand Catholic schools in the suburbs, particularly in Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick, Harford and Howard counties. Many suburban parochial schools have long waiting lists.

$2 million will go toward beginning renovation of the five high schools operated by the archdiocese, all of which were built in the 1960s.

$1 million will be used to repair and renovate the Monsignor O'Dwyer Youth Retreat Center in Sparks.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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