Mandatory kindergarten proposed

Panel recommends program be statewide

November 30, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The task force charged with reforming Maryland's system of school financing decided yesterday that its $1.1 billion spending plan will include mandatory full-day kindergarten, as well as pre-kindergarten for all children living in poverty.

"All of the research is supporting this critical period of learning," said Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools. "If a system like Prince George's County, with the space constraints it has, can put full-day kindergarten in every one of its schools, I see no reason why every system can't do it."

The Thornton Commission also called on the General Assembly to give county governments the authority to override voter-imposed tax limits if extra tax money is needed for public schools, a proposal that could be unrealistic politically.

The commission did not take up criticisms last week by officials from Baltimore and Montgomery County, who say their school systems would be shortchanged by the panel's financing proposal.

Those regional divisions are expected to be subject of intense debate at the commission's final meeting next month and in the General Assembly.

The Thornton Commission - appointed by the governor two years ago and named for its chairman, Alvin Thornton, a former Prince George's school board chairman - aims to reduce inequities among systems and ensure that all have enough money to meet state achievement standards.

Under the commission's preliminary recommendations, the $2.9 billion being spent by the state on public schools this year would increase by about $264 million next year. About $133 million is required under state law to pay for the increase in student enrollment; the commission seeks to add $130 million.

Over five years, annual state spending would increase by $1.8 billion. About $700 million of that increase is required by law; the other $1.1 billion would come from the task force's proposed formula for distributing state education funds. The plan also would expect local jurisdictions to spend about $693 million more on public schools annually within five years.

Yesterday, the commission decided that the extra state money should include the requirement that, by 2007, school systems provide full-day kindergarten for all children and make public pre-kindergarten available for all 4-year-olds living in poverty.

Mandatory, full-day kindergarten is supported by various groups, including the state school board, but has not received funding from the governor.

The main opposition was from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

The commission is scheduled to vote on its final report Dec. 11 and deliver it to the governor before the start of the legislative session in January.

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