State drops its appeal of award to schools

$55 million settlement with city in place

January 31, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

State officials have taken an unexpected legal step in an effort to fend off attempts by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to force the governor and legislature to provide more funding for Baltimore schools.

The state yesterday dropped its appeal of a Circuit Court ruling calling for Maryland to spend an additional $200 million to $260 million educating city students because of an out-of-court settlement under which the state will provide significantly less.

"The agreement between the city and the state calls for the budget to include an additional $55 million, and we have kept up our part," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said this week. "That is enough to satisfy everyone for next year."

The Court of Appeals was to hear the case Friday.

The withdrawal of the appeal lets stand a ruling by Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, who found in June that the state had failed to make the legally required "best efforts" to provide "even a reasonable down payment" on an adequate education for city students.

However, state officials believe Kaplan's ruling -- which estimated that the city would need another $2,000 to $2,600 per pupil -- isn't enforceable because there's no mechanism for the courts to compel the governor and General Assembly to spend money.

"They can't order the legislature to do anything," Glendening said.

Kaplan affirmed that view yesterday, saying his ruling last summer "just said what the right thing to do was."

"If they're satisfied to settle it on that basis, so be it," he said. "I can't order the state to appropriate money."

But Louis Bograd, a lawyer with the ACLU, which was one of the plaintiffs in the original funding suit, said the state is still expected to take steps to bring itself "into line" with the lower court's judgment.

"That's a binding legal order that at a minimum should provide important instruction to the executive and legislative branch about the constitutional requirements" on school funding, he said. "The assumption is that executive ... and legislative branch officials will act to bring their behavior into line with the constitutional requirements as interpreted by the court.

If they don't, Bogard said, "then we start talking about what steps are available to enforce that judgment." He said the ACLU intends to "aggressively lobby" the General Assembly for more funding. No court action is planned.

Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

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