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  •   Glendening Makes Education 'the Priority'

    Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the House chamber Thursday in Annapolis. (AP)
    By Daniel LeDuc and Robert E. Pierre
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Friday, January 22, 1999; Page B1

    Fresh off his 10-point November victory and flush with cash, Gov. Parris N. Glendening vowed yesterday to spend more than $1 billion on schools, scholarships and new teachers during the next four years, declaring that education can no longer merely be "a priority" but must be "the priority" as Maryland enters the next century.

    A former college professor and a longtime education advocate, Glendening (D) has always put schools at the top of his agenda. Maryland's healthy economy has meant hundreds of millions in new tax revenue in recent years, allowing the governor to fulfill many of his goals.

    "Our formula for continuing to improve education is simple," Glendening said during the annual State of the State address. "More classrooms – plus additional, qualified, certified teachers – equals smaller class size. And smaller class size for early reading and math means a better education for every child."

    In his 30-minute speech and his $17.7 billion budget proposal released yesterday, Glendening outlined an ambitious and expensive program of new higher education spending, local school construction, expanded scholarships and teacher hiring.

    He is focusing nearly all of his spending initiatives on education-related programs. They include increases this year in local education aid by $84‚million and in higher education spending by $102 million, as well as speeding up some expensive college construction projects.

    Despite an audacious price tag that tops $1 billion for school construction alone over the next four years, Glendening is in a commanding political position, partly because of his solid election victory. In addition, given the wide popularity of education programs, even the governor's Republican critics were left yesterday with weak protests of his record budget proposal, saying they also wanted to protect school funding.

    "You won't get any arguments from the Republican caucus on spending for education," said Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden (R-Howard). But, he added, "building schools is not solely the answer." He said state money should also go to new, public charter schools.

    "It's not all bricks and mortar," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman (R-Howard). "It's quality of teachers, and he's not going to fight the unions to get quality teachers."

    Glendening's plan also drew criticism from some in his own party for his failure to deliver on a campaign promise to hire 278 new elementary math and reading teachers this year, on the way to a goal of 1,100 new teachers by the time his term ends. His budget does not include any money for hiring this year because he has said he wants to have guidelines on hiring in place before beginning to fund the new positions next year.

    Montgomery County already has a program in place to hire such teachers and was counting on state money to help bring in 117 new teachers this year.

    "We weren't asking for a lot. Those are real needs," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), a strong supporter of the governor's reelection. "I don't think it's unreasonable to honor a commitment to pay for those teachers now."

    In his speech yesterday, Glendening said local school districts would be required to have at least 98 percent of their teachers certified in the subjects they teach to qualify for money for new teachers. That is a concern for some Prince George's County legislators because only 60 percent of the new teacher hires in the county last year were certified in their subject areas. Lawmakers from the county and from Baltimore say their schools, hampered by low salaries and struggling communities, have difficulty competing for teachers.

    "We're a jurisdiction that desperately needs to have new teachers," said Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D-Prince George's). "Smaller class sizes will help us attract better teachers. We really need to take advantage of that program, and the state needs to take an active role in working with the county and the school board to get and retain certified teachers."

    While concentrating on education, Glendening also used his fifth State of the State address since taking office in 1995 to outline a liberal agenda that included an expansion of collective bargaining for state employees, creation of legal protections for gays and a tax increase on tobacco.

    A longtime supporter of organized labor – which, in turn, has offered volunteers and contributions to Glendening's reelection efforts – the governor signed an executive order expanding collective bargaining for state employees three years ago. This year, with the support of national labor leaders such as AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Glendening is pushing to make his executive order law.

    The governor also is seeking to create legal protections for gays from job and housing discrimination.

    Glendening said he wanted a tobacco tax increase to discourage teenage smoking. Although he called only for a "significant" increase yesterday, his budget is balanced on the assumption that the legislature will pass a $1-a-pack tax increase, spread out 50 cents per year over the next two years. And he has tied popular college construction projects to the tobacco tax next year, a move legislators say is an attempt to box them in and force a tax increase.

    "I don't know that he's going to get everything he's asking for," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County). He noted that the tobacco tax traditionally "has been a hard sell in the Senate."

    What the governor did not talk about yesterday was an attempt to speed up an already approved 10 percent cut in the state income tax. The acceleration was something that he called for in October when his reelection prospects appeared shaky but that he has since abandoned.

    Republicans, and some Democrats, said yesterday that they still hoped to push through a tax cut acceleration. "A commitment is like a crying baby in church: They both ought to be carried out," said Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's). "We ought to try to do it."

    Glendening also did not mention any need for a gas tax increase or some other means to pay for steadily increasing road construction and mass transit costs. This month, the governor said a tax increase would be necessary this year or next. Key legislators agreed but since then have decided it would a hard political sell to voters this year and are postponing their plans.

    The governor also spent little time on economic development, a key campaign issue last year. His only such references were in terms of education.

    "Nowhere is this emphasis more pronounced that in the job market," he said. "A strong back and a solid work ethic no longer guarantee a secure, good-paying job."

    As he begins his second term, barred by law from seeking a third, Glendening is clearly looking to establish a legacy for his administration. Glendening has advocated expanded scholarships to allow high school students with B averages to attend Maryland colleges for free.

    This year he is proposing a program for students who wish to be teachers, but he said he will try to expand it to all students before leaving office.

    "I dream of a day when every child in Maryland enters high school knowing that the doors of college will be open if they work hard, get good grades and are willing to work in Maryland," Glendening said.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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