Senate hears schools critics

February 20, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

Legislators gave a skeptical reception yesterday to an advocacy group's claim that state funding to help children at risk of academic failure is going instead to teacher salaries, heating bills and other general expenses.

Advocates for Children and Youth briefed lawmakers on a report the group released last week saying that while the state has sent an extra $500 million to school districts to help educate at-risk students, the districts are spending less money on programs targeted to them.

But members of a Senate budget subcommittee said school districts are questioning the group's claims. The senators said they want ACY to meet with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and local officials before the panel decides whether to take action. "I just want to wait until the dust clears, until we can get some understanding," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat.

ACY Executive Director Matthew Joseph said he would be happy to meet with state and local officials but hopes the legislature will act before next year's budget is finalized.

The state has been phasing in over five years a record increase in education spending known as the Thornton plan. Next year's installment of the $1.3 billion plan is the last step, and Joseph wants lawmakers to include language in the budget specifying that the portion of the aid designated for at-risk youth be spent on programs targeted to help that population.

Grasmick said she will set up the meeting. But she said the ACY report misses two points: that Thornton was designed to give school districts flexibility in how they spend state aid and that test scores are going up.

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