House Passes Bill for Extra School Funding
Senators to Seek Controls on Pr. George's Before Approving $62 Million
By Lisa Frazier
Several senators said they plan to attach amendments that would require a financial and performance audit of the school system and a citizen review panel appointed jointly by the county and state to oversee the process.
Although the bill benefits all jurisdictions, some legislators have been particularly unhappy with the academic performance of Prince George's schools and say they want to use the measure as a vehicle to demand greater accountability of county officials. They imposed more stringent state controls last year on another struggling school system, in Baltimore.
"I don't think that's exceptional," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "I think it is to be expected that we would want to have some accountability in there."
Although the Prince George's school board already has agreed to the audit, the county's delegates are fighting it. They previously succeeded in making sure the audit was not included in the final version of the bill approved by the House, defeating just such a proposal in the Ways and Means Committee.
"We're concerned about anything that's going to tell us what we ought to do in our system," said Del. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's), chairman of the Prince George's delegation. "We feel we ought to make those decisions ourselves."
But Hoffman said promises from school officials that they will make improvements on their own will not be enough for the Senate.
"For years, we allowed the Baltimore school system to say things like that," Hoffman said. "Prince George's County is on the cusp. It will either go up or down. This is too deadly serious to wait and see if they will do the accountability that is required. The new money gives us a good hook."
As part of its efforts to help Baltimore last year, the General Assembly approved $254 million in additional spending for the city's schools over the next five years. Legislators from suburban jurisdictions joined forces to try to get more money as part of the deal, but their efforts fell short.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) appointed a task force after the last session to study the issue, and with the help of state Education Secretary Nancy S. Grasmick, the task force came up with a plan to provide additional funds to educate poor children.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening endorsed the task force plan and added even more money to it. Under the plan approved by the House, Prince George's is set to get about $16.2 million in added funding next year; Montgomery, $10.2 million; Howard, $1.3 million; Anne Arundel, $2.1 million; Charles, $837,788; Calvert, $415,807; and St. Mary's $848,834. This is on top of money the counties already are scheduled to receive under existing formulas.
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