Governor focuses on education

State of State speech urges smaller classes, more teachers and aid

January 22, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron and Gady A. Epstein | Thomas W. Waldron and Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Launching his second four-year term at a time of fiscal plenty, Gov. Parris N. Glendening called on the General Assembly yesterday to approve significant new spending throughout Maryland's education system.

Delivering his fifth State of the State address, Glendening proposed an 11 percent increase in aid to colleges and universities, new scholarships for future teachers, a $1 billion, four-year program to build and renovate school, and an initiative to reduce the size of some reading and math classes.

With the strong economy fueling larger-than-expected state revenues, Glendening said, Maryland should seize the opportunity to meet important education needs.

"The education agenda I have laid out is ambitious," Glendening told a joint session of the Senate and House of Delegates. "But if we do not dream, if we do not dare, our children will not have the future they deserve."

Legislators greeted Glendening with a five-minute ovation that was more enthusiastic than the sometimes tepid ones of previous years.

The governor also proposed a legislative agenda that includes collective-bargaining rights for state workers and a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Key Democratic legislators predicted that Glendening will have trouble with some of his initiatives -- particularly his proposals on collective bargaining and increasing the state tax on cigarettes -- but they applauded his focus on education.

"If the economy stays as it is, he is going to have four years to continue building on that education legacy, which I think is going to put him in a category by himself among the nation's governors," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat.

Republican leaders had modest words of praise for the governor's emphasis on education but assailed his budget for what they called "dangerous" overspending.

"Governor Glendening may be educating a lot of children who won't be able to find jobs in the state of Maryland because their jobs will be going to other states that have been more prudent in managing their fiscal affairs," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan of Howard County, the House Republican whip.

The governor made no mention of the proposal he embraced two weeks ago to raise the state tax on gasoline to generate more revenue for road and mass transit projects.

Faced with a lack of enthusiasm for the idea from the public and many legislators, Glendening appears ready to shelve the proposal for the year, with the expectation that it will resurface next year, legislative leaders said.

"He hasn't made up his mind as to this year or next," said Ray Feldmann, Glendening's press secretary.

Although Glendening had outlined the provisions of his education plan previously, he presented them yesterday as a package that he said would address problems ranging from crowded elementary school reading classes to the need for science buildings on Maryland college campuses.

Scholarship funds

A key plank is Glendening's inclusion of $102 million in additional state funds for higher education, an 11 percent increase that would include $15 million in new scholarship funds.

"I'm energized," said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "What's clear is, the governor and the legislature are committed to building education in the state."

The governor will also seek legislation that would lead to state grants for local school systems to reduce the size of first- and second-grade reading classes and seventh-grade math classes.

Glendening reversed a campaign pledge by opting to wait a year to include money for the initiative. The governor's aides said newly available federal funds will allow local school systems to hire more teachers in the meantime.

At least one prominent local official was frustrated.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to expect him to honor his promise to start hiring extra teachers to reduce class size to improve reading and math this year," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who campaigned aggressively for Glendening in last year's election.

Glendening's call for additional teachers could put pressure on Baltimore and Prince George's County schools, which would not qualify for full funding under the governor's plan unless they sharply reduced the number of uncertified teachers in their systems.

Calling for improvement in teaching quality, Glendening said he intends to withhold some of the new funding from school systems where more than 2 percent of teachers are uncertified.

Baltimore schools have roughly 1,000 uncertified teachers, close to 17 percent of the total, and the Prince George's system has more than 1,000 uncertified teachers, almost 15 percent. Those figures are by far the highest in Maryland, and the two systems are expected to find it difficult to reduce the number of uncertified teachers so sharply.

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