Pulling together

February 02, 2005

ACCORDING TO a recent poll commissioned by The Sun, nearly two-thirds of Maryland voters would like the state to provide more money to Baltimore City schools. That's a surprisingly high level of support, and certainly welcome as the state legislative session gets under way. In his sketchy budget, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. offers $397 million in additional money to schools around the state, but it's still an open question whether the city will get its fair share.

Despite the touted record increase in proposed spending for public schools, some analysts have already attacked Mr. Ehrlich's budget for not including all the money required under the Thornton plan. And education advocates have long insisted that Baltimore -- with large numbers of students needing help and many school buildings needing repair -- deserves more money than it's been getting.

That was pretty much the consensus of residents around the state, who generally rated education as the state's most important challenge. While 64 percent of all voters favored giving more money to Baltimore schools, support remained high among different categories of voters. Not surprisingly, the highest level of support was among voters in the city, at 84 percent; voters under the age of 35, 75 percent; and Democrats, 73 percent. Even a plurality of Republicans -- 48 percent -- were in favor.

Yet the poll showed that the city's schools generated more support from Prince George's and Montgomery counties than surrounding areas such as Baltimore County. In fact, pollster Keith Haller of Potomac Inc., a Bethesda-based firm, noted "a growing political and ideological separation between the Baltimore area suburbs and Baltimore city" on issues including the state of the economy.

This urban-suburban divide could complicate attempts to find regional solutions to issues such as the need for more affordable housing.

But what Baltimore's neighbors and Maryland's political leaders in Annapolis should remember is that improving conditions for the city's kids -- through schools, housing and other services -- ultimately improves conditions for the entire state.

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