Fighting chance for aid

The Education Beat

Help: For the first time since high hopes were dashed in the early 1970s, private schools appear to be moving closer to receiving money from the state. The arguments for it seem strong this time around.

January 12, 2000|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

MARYLAND HASN'T been hospitable to private school aid. There's no state program of aid to private elementary and secondary schools. No law allowing charter schools -- private schools operated with public money. And little talk of vouchers, despite a raging national controversy.

Still, here come the Roman Catholics again, rallying one evening last week for $7 million in aid for textbooks -- about $50 for each of the 134,000 students attending 1,100 Maryland private schools.

This year, for the first time since the Marvin Mandel administration in the early 1970s, private school aid has a fighting chance.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, flush with a budget surplus, is said to be seriously considering the plan, and key state legislators are lining up on the side of the Maryland Federation of Catholic-School Families and other pro-aid groups.

But the Catholics thought 1972 was their year, too, and 2000 could bring deja vu all over again.

Twenty-eight years ago, Maryland had a state voucher plan on the books for a few months, long enough for opponents to take the scheme to state referendum.

Marylanders turned it down by 94,000 votes and returned two years later to knock down a new attempt at "parochiaid" -- the word seems quaint in 2000 -- by a whopping 83,000 votes.

The voucher plan had been recommended on a split vote by a commission headed by Goucher College President Otto F. Kraushaar. It provided $14 million in "scholarships," ranging from $50 to $200, depending on family income, and usable at any private school in the state.

Maryland's voucher plan bore a resemblance to the one established in Florida last year by Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Florida plan, which has been challenged in the courts, also issues "scholarships," but only students in the state's poorly performing public schools are eligible. The Florida vouchers can be used at private and public schools.

Aid proponents in 1972 made dire predictions if taxpayers didn't lend a hand. Private school enrollment had been declining since the mid-1960s, while tuitions had been on the rise. Many parochial schools would have to close, the Catholic forces argued, and this would overburden public schools.

Baltimore archdiocesan schools did consolidate in the mid-1970s, a painful but necessary adjustment that might not have occurred had Marylanders allowed the voucher scheme to proceed. (In the same 1972 election, they approved the Maryland lottery.)

The vast majority of Catholic schools survived, and many are thriving 28 years later with no help from Maryland taxpayers.

Private school enrollment has recovered to about what it was in 1965. (Four of five private school students are in Catholic schools.)

This time around, aid proponents have strong arguments on their side. They can say times have changed. The charter school movement is sweeping the country.

Liberals and urban African-Americans who would have opposed aid 28 years ago are seeking alternatives to the public school near-monopoly, which hasn't exactly distinguished itself.

Maryland is more than generous to its private colleges. This year 15 schools (including Catholic Loyola and Notre Dame) get $36.6 million in state aid.

The private colleges, also eyeing the budget surplus, are seeking a 14 percent increase in the program next year.

If it's approved, they would get $41.1 million, about $1,300 in taxpayer subsidy for each full-time college student. Last week, I erroneously reported that figure as $130.

Three Merit semifinalists are from Baltimore schools

Baltimore public high schools are often missing from announcements of National Merit Scholarship winners, but this year two of them enroll three semifinalists.

From Polytechnic Institute come seniors Elizabeth Armenti and Simon Fitzgerald. Nadia Sirota of the School for the Arts also is a semifinalist.

The three will compete this spring for 7,600 scholarships worth $28 million.

Towson University provost makes 2nd resignation stick

John D. Haeger resigned twice as provost and vice president of Towson University.

In May, the University of Maine at Orono announced it had hired Haeger as provost, but he never signed a contract and took back his job at Towson.

Then last month, Haeger quit to become provost of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Two `average' statistics in Baltimore-area systems

Average number of bottles of water purchased by each Baltimore County student in school cafeterias, 1998-1999: 4.7.

Average term of Baltimore school chiefs since 1971 (excludes acting chiefs): four years, eight months.

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