Maryland to Hire 1,100 Teachers
By Amy Argetsinger
The Maryland General Assembly gave final approval yesterday to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's ambitious campaign promise to hire 1,100 new teachers to reduce the size of elementary school classes.
The program aims to lighten the workload for first- and second-grade reading teachers and to enrich their students' learning experience by creating classes with no more than 20 children – down from the current average of about 25 students per teacher.
Under Glendening's plan, Montgomery County would be the first to receive the grants to underwrite new teacher salaries this fall – a year ahead of other school districts.
Legislators trimmed the governor's original $50 million proposal, dropping a provision to hire extra seventh-grade math teachers, but otherwise lent overwhelming support to the issue – reflecting political enthusiasm for smaller classes.
Yet the debate over class sizes is really just beginning in Annapolis: Glendening did not include statewide funding for the program in this year's budget, deferring many of the fiscal questions until next year. And by singling out Montgomery as the only county to get funding this year, he has irritated some key legislators who may try to block the grant.
Meanwhile, legislators and education officials are wondering where they will find hundreds of extra instructors in the midst of a predicted teacher shortage.
Class size has become one of the most politically popular issues of the day. Many parents and politicians insist that with fewer students in a room, a teacher can provide more individual attention and help them learn more. President Clinton championed the issue, promising money to hire 100,000 new teachers over the next several years. He won funding from Congress for a first-stage hiring of 30,000 teachers who will join the nation's classrooms this fall. Virginia is now putting a similar program in place.
Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Glendening's Republican opponent in last fall's election, seized upon the issue, too. When she pledged last fall to hire 1,000 new teachers, Glendening upped the ante, pledging to hire 1,100.
Glendening commended the state Senate's 46 to 1 vote last night in favor of the plan. The House of Delegates approved it last week, 138 to 0. Reducing class sizes, he said in a statement, "instills valuable lifelong learning skills that will make a critical difference in later years" for children.
As the legislation was originally written, the grants to school districts would have been phased in over several years, expected to cost $18.5 million next year but $53.4 million by 2003.
Cutting math teachers from the program would save money, but budget analysts said they haven't yet recalculated the program's new cost.
Both the House and Senate amended one controversial aspect of the bill. Glendening wanted to cut off the grants from school districts that don't have at least 98 percent of their teachers fully certified by 2002. This rankled districts such as Prince George's County and Baltimore, which offer mid-range salaries and have only about 85 percent of their teachers with full certification.
Legislators agreed to keep that requirement but have amended it so that education officials can grant waivers to school districts that prove they are making "significant" progress toward getting their teachers certified. Prince George's and Baltimore legislators were also appeased by the governor's promise to extend $2.5 million to each district to help them help their teachers win full state certification.
A final bit of controversy lingers, however. Glendening agreed to give Montgomery County $1.7 million to hire 50 new teachers this year – a year early – after officials there complained he broke a campaign promise by delaying the grants until 2000.
Glendening says he is simply recognizing the fact that Montgomery schools already have a plan in place for reducing class sizes. But his offer has prompted other districts to clamor for early funding. And an influential legislator – Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee – has warned the governor that she may block his effort to give Montgomery County special treatment.
Some legislators criticized the bill last week for not being ambitious enough, pointing to research concluding that academic performance won't improve unless classes shrink to 17 students or lower.
"If we are going to do this, let's do it right," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford).
But Hoffman responded that even if the state could afford it, expanding the program to that extent would intensify the teacher shortage.
"It's not like certified teachers are lined up outside the door and the schools won't hire them," she said.
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