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Glendening Endorses Added Funds for Educating Md.'s Poor Children
By Lisa Frazier
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday formally endorsed a new round of state spending on educating poor children, a gesture that may help solidify his support in the critical Washington suburbs as statewide elections draw near.
Two of the biggest winners in the new plan would be Prince George's County, which would get an additional $16 million in school funding, and Montgomery, which would get $10 million. Overall, Glendening's plan would distribute $61 million to counties and goes beyond the recommendations of a task force that spent the last several months studying education financing for poor children.
Glendening (D), whose battle against a similar plan last year ruptured his relations with leading suburban politicians, said the state's thriving economy and resulting budget surplus make the new spending affordable. "We can seize the moment because of the wealth of the state to ensure that Maryland moves boldly into the next century," the governor said in an appearance at Viers Mill Elementary School in Wheaton.
Yesterday's announcement was the latest indication from Glendening that he intends to make education spending a top priority in the 90-day General Assembly session that convenes Wednesday. Last week, the governor announced a new $640 million plan for higher education and hinted that he would try to increase spending on local school systems, as he spelled out in yesterday's proposal.
More than a dozen state and local politicians appeared with Glendening, a sign of possibly warming relations between the governor and key politicians who have fought him on education funding during the last year. Among those present was Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who has sharply criticized the governor and, in fact, skipped a Glendening appearance in Montgomery in the spring after a bitter fight over education financing during the last legislative session.
"What he announced today goes even beyond what he needed to do to make amends," Duncan said. "It was a huge gesture on his part. I couldn't be more pleased with what he has done."
Duncan and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) led last year's fight by a coalition of suburban counties to extract more state financing for their schoolchildren as part of the deal that steered $254 million to help improve Baltimore's troubled school system. Duncan and Curry argued that school districts throughout the state had increasing numbers of "at-risk" children and should get extra assistance as well.
Their battle netted them about $167 million about half of what they sought but left the legislature severely divided.
Curry had to attend a funeral and missed the announcement yesterday, but he also praised the governor's proposal, which legislative leaders said likely will be approved by the General Assembly in the next few months. The new spending will come on top of about $2 billion the state already is scheduled to distribute to the counties.
"Obviously, I'm pleased the state has endorsed the principles we advanced," Curry said. "Each of these endorsements is a milestone for us on the road to education parity."
Indeed the plan, put together by State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, includes something for everyone. The largest jurisdictions would be the biggest winners, mainly because of their large numbers of children who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches and the Limited English Proficiency Program. But Baltimore County also would receive about $10 million, which includes a $1.2 million grant to help update its aging school buildings, most of which were built before 1961.
The plan also includes $2.2 million for Anne Arundel County, $415,807 for Calvert County, $837,788 for Charles County and $1.3 million for Howard County. It also would provide an additional $3.2 million for school libraries throughout the state. The proposed funding program would expire after four years, the same time as the Baltimore deal.
The announcement came as especially good news to Prince George's officials, who are seeking an additional $50 million each in operating and school construction funds to build new neighborhood schools. A federal judge is reviewing the school system's 25-year-old desegregation order, and school officials hope that he will permit an end to involuntary busing and a return to neighborhood schools.
Prince George's expects to receive an additional $23 million in direct state aid based on projected enrollment increases and growing numbers of poor children. Add Glendening's proposal, and the school system should get close to $40 million in new operating aid next year.
"I'm very happy," School Superintendent Jerome Clark said. "It's going to get us close to the community schools plan."
Timothy F. Maloney, a former legislator from Prince George's who served as vice chairman of the task force, said the extra money will be a big boost for the county's at-risk children. "But what is still missing is an accountability plan to improve our schools," he said.
Some legislators say they will try to attach management reforms, including replacing the elected school board with an appointed one, to any proposal to grant Prince George's, the state's second-lowest-performing school system, significant increases in state aid.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company