Debating points aren't always quite accurate

Maryland Votes 2006 / The Debates

October 15, 2006|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun Reporter

Two hours of debates yesterday - one live, the other set to air tomorrow- gave both Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley many chances to brag about their accomplishments, attack each other's records and offer proposals for the next four years.

But like advertisements, campaigns do not often offer context with their claims. Political rhetoric can twist and stretch truth by simply leaving out another side of the story - sometimes by mistake, sometimes not. Here is a look at what the candidates claimed and how it compares to the facts.

Education

Ehrlich: "We have fully funded ... the Thornton formula. We inherited this mandate [that] the General Assembly put together without a funding source. ... Every mandatory spending aspect on Thornton has been funded completely over the past four years."

Facts: The Democratic-controlled General Assembly approved a public school funding bill before the 2002 election called the Thornton plan. It is true that the legislature gave little guidance on how to fund the initiative.

Ehrlich has not funded all portions of the plan. Ehrlich increased K-12 funding by $1.4 billion, a record amount, but has not funded a component of the plan designed to compensate districts where the costs to educate students are higher, known as the geographic index. In the 2006 school year, the difference amounted to $72.1 million.

In later statements, Ehrlich noted the distinction between fully funding Thornton and funding its "mandatory spending" portions. Ehrlich has said the law does not require him to fund the index. A letter from the state attorney general's office supports that opinion.

O'Malley: "The reason why the legislature did not want the governor to take over more city schools is because he already is running three of them ... and yet the children in those schools did not see their test scores go up last year."

Facts: Last March, with the support of Ehrlich, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick proposed a state takeover of 11 Baltimore schools that had long records of failure. The state proposed turning the schools over to a private management firm or converting them to charter schools. The legislature, with O'Malley's support, blocked the move.

Private management has not always translated into better test scores, but it also has not unilaterally failed. Three city schools, Montebello, Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor elementary schools, were taken over by the state in 2000 and handed to a private education firm, Edison Schools Inc. Templeton has made some progress in 2004 and 2005 but did not meet state standards in 2006. Gilmor continues to be listed in a category of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Montebello, however, has made significant progress. It now meets federal and state standards and ranks above citywide averages.

Ehrlich: "The mayor spent more on the new slogan for Baltimore city over the past few years than he has increasing his money in Baltimore city schools, $500,000 compared to $176 million in the state of Maryland."

Facts: This past May, Baltimore paid a consultant $500,000 to produce a slogan for the city: "Get in on it." The O'Malley administration, meanwhile, has been criticized for not increasing funding for city schools operations more rapidly.

Baltimore's current budget contains $207.9 million in general fund spending for city school operations. Baltimore spent $200.4 million on operations in 2000-2001 - meaning that funding increased about $7.5 million during his tenure, significantly more than what was spent on the slogan initiative.

Those numbers do not include what O'Malley touts as his leading school funding effort: money for construction and maintenance. The administration has spent an additional $75 million for capital costs in recent years.

O'Malley: "We've increased per pupil ... spending by 20 percent in our school system."

Facts: Baltimore has spent more than required on school operations, though not by much. Per pupil spending has increased by more than 20 percent - closer to 30 percent, by some estimates - during his time in office. However, the increase is based more on a significant decline in enrollment than on any major funding increases proposed by O'Malley.

In 2000, school officials reporting having 99,925 students enrolled. In 2007, the system projected having 83,250, a 17 percent decline.

Crime

O'Malley: "Every year there are 50 or 60 fewer people who get murdered in our city. We've pushed the homicide rate below 200 for, I think, six or seven consecutive years in a row."

O'Malley made this claim at the first debate, and his campaign later acknowledged that he misspoke. The number of homicides in the city has been kept below 300 - not 200. There were 269 murders in Baltimore last year. It also is not true to suggest that 50 or 60 fewer murders have taken place every year. In fact, the number of murders has hovered in the mid-200s for several years.

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