Plan to cut class size comes with a catch

Uncertified teachers would cost jurisdictions

February 24, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's $50 million plan to improve reading and math scores by hiring more than 1,000 extra teachers found objection in an unexpected corner of the State House yesterday: the very school districts that need the aid the most.

The governor's bill, which was presented to a House of Delegates committee yesterday and will be heard in the Senate today, offers money to shrink class sizes around the state, but would withhold some funds from districts that fail to reduce their ranks of uncertified teachers.

"Jurisdictions that could benefit the most from a program like this end up being penalized," said Del. Obie Patterson, a Prince George's Democrat. "That's not reasonable."

Patterson's sentiments were echoed by several delegates from Prince George's County and Baltimore, two jurisdictions where schools suffer a list of woes, including the state's lowest test scores, high drop-out rates and difficulty attracting certified teachers.

Of the roughly 1,000 new teachers in Baltimore this year, 60 percent lacked full certification.

Representatives from the two districts rapped an otherwise popular -- if expensive -- proposal. The bill to reduce class size is seen as a major plank in the governor's education reform program, and it mirrors an effort under way in Montgomery County and elsewhere in the nation.

Under the plan, the state would pay for 425 new teachers statewide in 2001 and 1,250 by 2004. The hiring would target first- and second-grade reading classes and seventh-grade math instruction.

The bill would require that the first hiring be done in the neediest schools of each district and would provide an additional pool of $3 million to pay for books, supplies and other costs that might crop up as class sizes are pared.

What prompted concern among several members of the House Ways and Means Committee was a paragraph in the bill that says any district failing to cut the number of uncertified teachers to 2 percent by 2003 would lose a portion of its funds.

Del. Salima S. Marriott, a Baltimore Democrat, said that provision would punish the districts that are struggling to attract qualified teachers. In Baltimore, 17.4 percent of teachers are not certified.

"We're doing everything we can, but it's a long way from 17 [percent] to 2," Marriott said. "So while other districts grow stronger under this bill, we end up being hurt. And the gulf between the haves and the have-nots grows wider."

The heads of the two districts agreed, urging the committee to eliminate the requirement.

Aides to the governor said they were open to discussing adjustments to the bill but did not want the certification provision cut entirely.

"The governor believes it is absolutely crucial to link teacher certification with the class-size reduction initiative," said Glendening press secretary Ray Feldmann.

Joseph C. Bryce, the governor's chief legislative officer, told delegates that Glendening is working on other fronts to widen the pool of qualified teachers so troubled districts would not be forced to compete with healthier systems for instructors.

He pointed to a proposed scholarship program that would reward education majors with tuition support in exchange for a commitment to teach in Maryland and two smaller scholarship programs that would provide similar incentives to college students nearing graduation. He said Prince George's County received more than $4 million last year aimed at certifying teachers.

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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