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Glendening Jacks Up School Aid Proposal

By Charles Babington and Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 9, 1998; Page B01

With tax revenue soaring because of a strong economy, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening plans to propose significantly larger increases in state spending on public schools than he had contemplated even a few months ago.

On Monday, officials say, Glendening will propose record levels of construction and operating aid for Maryland's public school systems. The increases are on top of a new $635 million spending program for state colleges that was formally unveiled yesterday.

Glendening (D) will propose about $225 million for construction of elementary, middle and high schools -- a 50 percent increase from this year's level -- and more than $46 million in new operating funds, said people briefed by him in recent days. Montgomery and Prince George's counties will be among the two biggest beneficiaries of the new initiative.

The one-two-three punch signals that Glendening, who is up for reelection this year, wants to devote much of the state's budget surplus to education, generally a politically popular use. In an interview yesterday, the governor showed little enthusiasm for modest tax-cut plans floated by legislative leaders and some of his political rivals.

But he left little doubt that education will be one of his top campaign themes. "It's more than a priority. It's a passion," he said. The legislative session that opens Wednesday, he said, "will be a tremendous step forward for education."

Glendening, a former college professor, often has said he wants to be Maryland's "education governor." Over the last three years, however, critics have said he didn't deserve the title because of what they described as generally unspectacular increases in education spending, especially at the college level.

Glendening appears eager to change that impression, now that the government has a projected $260 million surplus for the coming fiscal year. His plans must be approved by the General Assembly.

On Monday, in Wheaton, the governor plans to call for spending about $225 million on public school construction next year, a considerable increase from this year's $150 million and much more than the amounts typical of the early 1990s. The new plan could mean as much as $50 million in school construction aid to Montgomery alone, which received $38 million this year, government sources said.

Glendening also said he will call for slight increases in a $46 million plan for additional operating funds for Maryland schools. The original plan, designed to steer more money to suburban schools after last year's big aid package to Baltimore, was drawn up by a task force heavily influenced by State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, a Glendening appointee. The money would be in addition to roughly $2 billion in school aid that the state plans to distribute to the counties under existing formulas.

Grasmick's plan calls for slightly more than $9 million each in additional annual operating funds for Montgomery and Prince George's. Glendening's plan may push the amount to $10 million, said government sources.

Glendening will be able to say he went beyond the education spending targets of his own advisers. That might play well among voters concerned about public education for their children's sake or their own, some analysts said.

"I think he's figured out his constituency," said Harry Basehart, a political scientist at Salisbury State University. "He can begin to get a clear image toward the voters that he is an education governor."

His political foes are less charitable. "I think there is room in the amount of the surplus we have to enhance education spending and accelerate the tax cut," said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Republican who hopes to unseat Glendening this year. She and others want the state to implement a 10 percent cut in income taxes over three years, rather than the currently planned five years.

Glendening did not rule out such a move yesterday, but he repeatedly warned that new or accelerated tax cuts sometimes lead to fiscal problems in the longer term.

The governor's proposed four-year, $635 million addition to higher education aid would be spread among many state universities, community colleges and private colleges. The first year's infusion would total $64.5 million, with $49.2 million going to the University of Maryland system.

The money would begin to meet the goals of decade-old legislation that established the University of Maryland system and designated College Park as the state's premier university. Funding of that legislation stalled in the early 1990s and has grown at meager levels since.

Glendening said he waited until now to advocate a big spending increase because it was not fiscally prudent earlier. "I said when we were financially able to do so, we would make a greater commitment to higher education," he said. "We are now in a position to do so."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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