Education is providing sizzle to the governor's race, taking a ++ much higher political profile than when Democrat Parris N. Glendening narrowly defeated Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in their first contest four years ago.
Both candidates acknowledge that their interest is spurred by polls indicating education is the top concern of Marylanders.
Over the past few weeks, each candidate conducted two days '' of staged events to outline education agendas. Both proposed multimillion-dollar measures to fill teacher vacancies.
Also, each endorsed phonics as the preferred method for teaching children to read, though Glendening notes that a governor's power in instructional matters is largely that of the "bully pulpit."
The rhetoric has heated up, too. Sauerbrey refers to a "crisis" in the schools and calls herself the "reformist" candidate and her opponent a "tool of the unions."
The governor, noting Sauerbrey's mixed voting record when she was a delegate in the General Assembly, declares, "She is public enemy No. 1 in education."
For evidence, Glendening points to Sauerbrey's vote in 1984 against a large increase in state education aid.
During her 1994 campaign, Sauerbrey, a former high school teacher, praised "charter" schools -- schools that are publicly financed but privately operated -- and proposed vouchers for tuition at private schools. She paid scant attention to higher education.
This time, Sauerbrey has a full agenda for public school improvements, calls higher education one of her priorities and has relegated her more conservative positions to the back of the book in which she outlines her "Maryland's BEST" (Better Education Starts Today) program.
The governor has taken advantage of the recent years of prosperity to try to improve schools.
His administration has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction, aid to local school districts, Internet connections and a dozen other programs. He has helped form a state "partnership" with the failing Baltimore school system and committed additional aid to his home county, Prince George's.
Add teachers, shrink classes
He promises more of the same in a second term, including smaller classes statewide. He also pledges more than $120 million over four years to hire beginning reading teachers and middle school math teachers. Higher education is to receive $635 million in new funds by 2002.
Sauerbrey has said she can pay for her proposal for 1,001 new teachers by shaving bureaucratic costs and "putting resources in the classroom."
"We should be ashamed of the way educational dollars are wasted," she says.
Several of Sauerbrey's positions run counter to those of the powerful Maryland State Teachers Association, an ally of the governor and longtime foe of the Republican candidate. As a state delegate, Sauerbrey voted against giving the MSTA a stronger voice on the board that sets standards for teachers.
Swap scholarship funds
In addition, Sauerbrey would face a fight with the General Assembly over her proposal to fund scholarships for education students by abolishing the legislative scholarship program, a $9 million, jealously guarded fund that allows senators and delegates to give college scholarships to constituents.
Sauerbrey also says that Glendening, as county executive, left Prince George's County so debt-ridden that he created a crisis for its school system.
"As I look over four years of Parris Glendening's record [as governor]," she says, "I don't think there's been very much in the way of reform, other than what [state Superintendent Nancy S.] Grasmick has pushed for."
Four years ago, candidate Sauerbrey said she wanted to be "the first to wave Nancy Grasmick goodbye." Today, some of her views are not far from Grasmick's. Both, for example, would offer inducements to teachers to work in fields that need instructors, such as math, science and special education.
Differ on testing
Sauerbrey continues to dislike aspects of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), the state's nationally praised school-reform effort, for which Grasmick is an ardent saleswoman. But Sauerbrey stops short of saying she would scrap it, as her most conservative supporters urge.
"Children are being tested more on their feelings and attitudes," she says, "rather than on substantive knowledge of subjects."
Glendening also was a MSPAP doubter four years ago, but he has became a staunch supporter. "Maybe," says Grasmick, laughing, "I can convert a Governor Sauerbrey, too."
Sauerbrey vs. Glendening on education
Here are the major education initiatives proposed by gubernatorial candidates Ellen R. Sauerbrey and Parris N. Glendening:
On reading: Proposes a "statewide reading program that emphasizes phonics," insuring that all schools have phonics-intensive materials. But she would leave final decisions up to local school districts.
On attracting teachers: Would provide funds to hire 1,001