Schools look for 8.5% boost

Governor proposes $30 million to aid early childhood

City settlement accepted

January 12, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is proposing an 8.5 percent increase in spending on Maryland's public schools next year, including a $30 million initiative aimed at boosting early childhood achievement.

The governor's $2.57 billion education package, released yesterday, also includes his acceptance of a $55 million settlement offer from Baltimore officials to end the latest round of legal wrangling over state aid to the city system.

Glendening said his spending plan - a significant boost over the 6 percent increase the state's schools saw this year - demonstrated his commitment to education as a top priority.

"There is simply no function of government that is as important as what we do for education," he said. "This is about an investment in our classrooms and our teachers and our children."

But while legislative leaders and education advocates praised much of Glendening's proposal, many said schools in poorer counties need even more and were disappointed that proposals such as requiring all-day kindergarten weren't fully supported.

"I certainly applaud him for his commitment, [but] I wish it was a little heavier," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat. "I get the sense from listening to my colleagues that there will be a strong effort to push to increase the commitment."

Once the governor formally introduces his budget next week, the General Assembly has the authority only to cut it, not make additions. In practice, however, legislators are often able to negotiate with the governor to get him to release more money.

Glendening's early childhood proposal adds $11 million beyond the main education budget for pre-kindergarten programs - including money to certify day care centers as early childhood centers, to double the number of centers named for the late education specialist Judith P. Hoyer and to improve provider training.

"I'm particularly pleased about the early childhood education pieces," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "When the schools get the kids at age 5, they'll have a fighting chance at success."

The other part of the early childhood package includes $19 million in aid for school systems to use as they choose in kindergarten through third grade.

Glendening said the money could go toward such purposes as reducing class size, new reading programs, special education and library materials.

Though school systems could use the money toward all-day kindergarten, the governor did not support a proposal by the state school board to pay for it at all elementary schools over the next three to five years.

"It's a strong step in the right direction," said Del. Mark K. Shriver, a Montgomery County Democrat and one of the legislature's leading supporters of early childhood programs. "But clearly it's not enough money to begin the all-day kindergarten statewide.

"I'm hopeful there will be more money later in the session."

Overall, the proposed $203 million increase means that state spending on public education for kindergarten through 12th grade will have increased by $1 billion since the governor took office in 1995 - a 63 percent increase to $2.57 billion.

The spending reflects broad public support in Maryland for improving schools. A poll released this week, conducted for The Sun and two other news media outlets, found that voters think education should be the top priority for the governor and legislators during the 90-day session.

Some legislators expressed concern yesterday that Glendening's package does not provide enough help to school systems in financially distressed areas with few extra resources.

The budget provides little or no money for proposals from the state school board in such areas as teacher mentoring and recruiting. Though the governor provided $19 million toward the board's plan to aid low-performing students - an amount required by a deal struck last year - about $30 million of the plan remains unfunded.

"I am hopeful there will be additional funding for education," said Nancy S. Grasmick, the state schools superintendent.

A spokesman for the governor said Glendening received education requests totaling more than $500 million in new money and provided as much as he could.

Grasmick and others said they were pleased to see the dispute settled over aid to the city.

Last spring, the city took the state back to court after the governor did not provide as much funding as Baltimore educators had sought - threatening the landmark city-state partnership in 1997 that had settled the original lawsuit over state aid.

City leaders said they will put their latest court challenge on hold in exchange for the $55 million in aid - which represents a $22 million increase over the current year, but $46 million less than the city school board had been seeking.

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