Unlikely House allies fail to increase city's share of education bill Mitchell amendment loses despite Republican help

prospects better in Senate

January 24, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

An effort to increase Baltimore's share of a proposed $61.5 million education funding package was squelched in a House committee yesterday but faces brighter prospects in the Senate.

House leaders beat back an amendment offered by Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV that would have changed the funding bill to add about $4.9 million for Baltimore.

The amendment failed in the House Ways and Means Committee, 13-6, but not before the liberal Mitchell picked up some unlikely allies. Four of the yes votes came from conservative Republican critics of the formula, which was crafted by state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

After that vote, the committee approved the overall bill and sent it to the full House of Delegates. The legislation, which is supported by the leaders of Maryland's seven largest jurisdictions and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, is expected to coast through that chamber easily.

L But the bill can expect less tender treatment in the Senate.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said she shares the concerns of Mitchell and the Republicans.

The Baltimore Democrat said she intends to change a provision that sets Baltimore's share of one aid formula -- based on the number of students in poverty -- at 50 percent of what other jurisdictions are getting.

A task force appointed by the speaker and the governor supported the lower funding for the city because Baltimore received a $254 million education aid package passed last year.

Baltimore is treated the same as the counties in other formulas in the bill, which would provide $6.9 million in new aid to the city next year and greater amounts to Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.

Unlike Mitchell, Hoffman said she will not try to bring the city to 100 percent funding under the poverty formula immediately, but over four years.

"By what grounds do you permanently codify the children of Baltimore at 50 percent of their needs?" she said. Hoffman said that although the formula is supposed to expire in four years, it is likely to be extended.

House leaders defended the 50 percent figure as a reasonable compromise between those who felt Baltimore should get full funding and those who thought the city should be excluded from the formula because of last year's infusion of aid.

Mitchell, a Baltimore Democrat, and his Republican allies argued that the terms of a legal settlement between the city and the state require that Baltimore be treated equally in the distribution of funding. Democratic leaders produced -- and their critics dismissed -- a letter from the state attorney general's office saying the formula would be legal.

Del. James F. Ports Jr. said the Republican leadership's position was based on a principle that aid to local school systems should be based on a formula that treats all jurisdictions equally. He said the speaker's bill "smacks of a political payoff."

In a break from their usual emphasis on cutting taxes and spending, Ports and Howard County Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House minority whip, said the governor should add money to his budget to bring Baltimore to 100 percent funding.

Ports criticized Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke for endorsing the compromise formula.

"If he signed off on less money for Baltimore City, then shame on him," said Ports, a Baltimore County Republican whose district includes a sliver of the city.

In a statement issued last night, Schmoke said that while he is urging city delegates to vote for the House bill, he also supports Hoffman's efforts to amend the formula.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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