WHEN IT COMES to Baltimore's public schools, Gov. Parris N. Glendening acts like a fickle boyfriend. He wants to be seen with them when it suits him, but when they need him most, he's nowhere to be found.
Will he ever truly commit to the cause he says he loves?
City schools need him now in a desperate way. This week, the school board voted to spend $8 million on a program that will stop the tragic promotion each year of students who aren't ready for the next grade. Kids who fail key grades would be held back (a seemingly novel idea in public schools) and given intensive remediation.
There's just one problem: School officials don't have $8 million to spend. And why are they so cash-strapped?
Because the governor deserted them during this year's legislative session.
Sure, he swooned late last year when he talked about the need to support city schools and his passionate dedication to city children. And he calls himself the "education governor" whenever he gets the chance because it's a popular stance that wins the governor many friends in Maryland and across the country.
But when it came time this year to fight for city schools' $48 million request (which would have stopped social promotion and accomplished a myriad of other goals) the governor directed his affections -- and state money -- elsewhere.
So city schools are left to scramble for $8 million -- a seemingly paltry sum that could nonetheless make a huge dent in the number of non-readers who show up in ninth-grade classes each fall. Maybe they can filch it from funds for gym and art classes. Maybe they can push class sizes back to 30 or 35 in some schools. Maybe they can skimp a little more on maintenance for the dozens of school buildings that are already falling down.
Or maybe it's not too late for the governor to deliver on his stated intentions. He could commit now (four months before the next legislative session) to fully funding city schools' request next year. He could promise state resources to reimburse city schools for any money they spend on this program before next year's appropriation arrives. He could even try to come up with the cash now, using funds reserved for departments that fall short during the year.
There's no shortage of ways for the governor to show -- rather than talk about -- his commitment to city schools and city kids. The only question now is whether he has the political courage to engage them in more than a fleeting political dalliance.