Educators say increase in funding falls short

Governor proposing fraction of what board sought for reforms

January 21, 2000|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal to boost education spending for next year has left Maryland educators and legislators disappointed by what wasn't included for public schools.

Though the governor promoted the commitment to education in his budget this week, there's barely a fraction of the millions sought by the state school board for its plans to end social promotion and fight the impending shortage of teachers.

There's also nothing to relieve the financial crunch hurting four economically depressed,rural school systems; nor is there much for local districts to increase salaries for teachers -- though he urged local governments to come up with those raises.

And there's little of the extra aid sought by Baltimore, including funding to address the emerging divide between Internet-savvy suburban students and their peers at city schools with few computers.

"The governor who wears the mantle of the `education governor' will need to act like one for the rest of the session," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

But a spokeswoman for the governor called criticism of his commitment to education "ridiculous." "Education is clearly the governor's priority," said press secretary Michelle Byrnie. "It is at the top of his agenda."

Unmet needs

Hesitant to upset the governor, some educators and legislators are quick to emphasize that he has increased education spending 40 percent. But the state still has many unmet needs in education.

"I'd like to see more money in there, there's no question about it," said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat and member of the state's task force on class size reduction. "We're going forward, not backward, but if you ask if it's enough, I'd say that it's never enough."

Glendening's budget for next year includes several major gains for public schools -- $256 million for construction, $11.7 million to reduce sizes for first- and second-grade reading classes, and $9.4 million for new-teacher bonuses and mentoring support. He's also including money for telephones in every classroom and expanding Internet access.

"He's made a decent stab at this to do it right, and I don't want to criticize a decent start," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Boon to higher education

The governor's budget also is being called a boon to higher education, particularly its $1.2 billion for a five-year construction program for college campuses.

"I give the governor credit for some of the items he included," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "There are some very significant things missing."

The biggest item not included in Glendening's budget is the state board's $49 million plan to end social promotion and provide increased support to low-performing elementary and middle-school pupils.

The plan -- which would require summer school for eighth-graders who perform below grade level in math or reading -- is aimed at preparing pupils for a new series of high school exams that students will have to pass to earn diplomas. Educators believe the only significant part of the budget that might meet part of the plan is $4 million for expanding family early care centers.

`A fair chance'

"I'm very disappointed that the $49 million for the intervention plan is not contained in the governor's budget," said Edward Andrews, the state school board's vice president. "We have got to get that money so the children have a fair chance on these exams. If we don't, we'll have to go back to the drawing board."

In the past, Andrews has warned that if money isn't provided for the plan, he will call for the state board to stop requiring the exams for diplomas -- sinking what's intended as the final piece of Maryland's education reform effort.

In other states that have begun rigorous high school exit exams without advance help, large numbers of students have failed, jeopardizing the political future of reform there, Grasmick said.

"I'm not going to do something that would be detrimental to students, and this would be detrimental if we don't provide the support," Grasmick said.

Other initiatives

Byrnie, the governor's spokeswoman, said he is still considering other initiatives and is likely to add to his spending proposal in supplemental budgets later in the legislative session.

Even with a large surplus and money from Maryland's share of the national tobacco settlement, Glendening is constrained by affordability limits on how much he is allowed spend.

Still, some are hopeful that he will come through with more money for education.

"For a relatively small piece of money, we can fix some of these K-12 holes in the dike by looking at the most distressed jurisdictions and school systems," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat.

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