O'Malley says federal funds could cover cuts to schools

January 28, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

Baltimore schools could receive at least $98 million in funding under a federal stimulus package, muting the impact of steep state budget cuts, Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday.

The Democratic governor has been criticized in recent days for proposing cuts in aid to some of the state's poorest school districts, including Baltimore City and Prince George's County. His office, which has been poring over an $825 billion stimulus package being considered in Congress, released a county-by-county analysis of how education dollars would flow to school districts.

But city schools chief Andres Alonso and state lawmakers continued to object to changes the governor made to education funding formulas, which they said could cripple the city system for years. They cautioned that performance gains could be reversed if funding isn't restored.

"The present formula is going to force me to be at the back of the line every year with a tin cup," Alonso told the state school board yesterday.

In O'Malley's proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Baltimore would receive $23 million less than in the current year. But the governor said that would be "greatly offset" by $98 million in federal money for disadvantaged children and special education the city would receive over the next two years. The governor urged residents to contact congressional representatives to call for passage of the stimulus package.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed," O'Malley said.

Alonso said that because the stimulus money would come with strings attached, it wouldn't close the city schools' budget shortfall.

O'Malley plans to meet today with lawmakers from Baltimore City and Prince George's County, which would receive $35 million less in state aid next year. The governor has pushed an overall increase in funding of $5.4 billion for pre-K to 12th-grade education, but his figures include money the state sets aside for teacher pensions.

Del. Curtis S. Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat, said lawmakers want O'Malley to restore funding formulas so that poor areas are not disproportionately affected.

Baltimore Sun reporter Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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