Show city schools the money, governor

Dire needs: Students deserve a stronger financial commitment from state coffers.

March 07, 2000

THEY need it to send failing kids to summer school and to expand full-day kindergarten across the city. They need it to lure better teachers with higher salaries and to put art and music back into school curricula.

You could line Charles Street from the Inner Harbor to the Washington Monument with a list of everything Baltimore's public schools could do with more money, but we won't do that here. Instead, we'll leave it at this: city schools have funding deficiencies that outstrip those of every other Maryland school district -- and perhaps even those of a few Third World nations.

That said, Gov. Parris N. Glendening ought to move heaven and earth to squeeze more city school funding out of his proposed budget. Is the system's request for a $49 million boost too much? Probably. But the governor owes it to city students to deliver what he can to ameliorate some of their great needs.

City school officials were miffed last week when the governor's first supplemental budget was released with no significant new money for city schools. The budget included a statewide allotment for boosting teacher salaries (Baltimore would get about $9 million of that) but didn't even address the system's $49 million request.

The governor's second supplemental budget should do better by city schools. You've seen the reasons why before: Fewer than a quarter of city students annually pass state exams; only half who enter high school graduate; and countless others leave school without basic skills.

Lack of money may not be the primary cause of those problems, but it's certainly in the top five. Reform efforts begun in 1997 are beginning to show results, but a funding boost could produce something more significant than a hiccup in the system's low stats.

Some folks are arguing that the 1997 reform agreement legally compels the governor and legislature to significantly increase funding; a gubernatorial spokesman warned last week about using this year's surplus to commit to ongoing programs.

The governor's position is not persuasive. It's just an argument against imprudent spending. Somewhere between the two positions, there's a workable compromise.The governor should pick a number (any between zero and $49 million will do) and honor his responsibility to use the state's great resources to meet its greatest needs.

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