Armed with new statistics showing an increasing gap between the levels of school spending in the state's wealthy and poor school districts, a Maryland state commission is set to meet today to try to work out a more equitable formula for dispensing state education aid.
One formula before the commission would, in addition, increase the total amount of state aid to local districts by $41 million in each of the next five years.
According to David Ricker, assistant state school superintendent for budget and fiscal affairs a growing number of people have complained that the formula used to distribute state aid is inequitable and that the total of $305 million the state distributes is inadequate.
A recent report of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare shows that Maryland's wealthier school districts are spending 50 percent more per pupil than their poorer counterparts, and the gap is growing.
During the 1976-77 school year, for instance, Montgomery County, the richest county in Maryland, spent more than $1,674 to educate each pupil in its system while Baltimore City spent nearly $700 less. Prince George's County, meanwhile, spent about $1,300 per pupil.
"What this means is that we're trying to do more with less," said Joann Devoe, an administrator with the Baltimore Board of Education. "Over half of our kids are disadvantaged and qualify for the federal government's free lunch program. They simply require more attention and expensive remedial education classes than they are getting."
The study, which reflected a national syndrome of increasing imbalance between rich and poor school district spending, placed Maryland fourth from the top of a group of 45 states with spending disparities. Maryland's situation also mirrored the continuing national reliance on greatly varying tax bases for local school funding.
According to the study, which attempted to pinpoint the degree of spending equalization that was achieved during the period 1970-75, the greatest disparity occurred in New York, where rich school districts spent nearly 60 percent more than poor districts.
In Maryland the imbalance grew by nearly 20 percent during the five-year period, prompting a study of funding alternatives by the state Department of Education.
"The truth of the matter is that the equalization measures we adopted in 1974 just have not kept pace with the skyrocketing cost of education," said Del. Lucille Maurer (D-Montgomery).
Since 1974 Maryland has used a formula created by Maurer and thenlieutenant governor Blair Lee that doles out a maximum of $690 per pupil to school districts, with greater grants going to the state's poorer school districts.
This year, for instance, the poorest Maryland district, Caroline County, is getting $505.63 per pupil from the state while Montgomery County and Prince George's County are getting $182.55 and $393.26, respectively.
Gross discrepancies occur because of the difference in the site of the local tax revenues that supplement the state aid. Though the state offers the maximum $690 per pupil grant, many educators feel that today it actually costs nearly 2 1/2 times that amount to give a child a decent education.
And in Montgomery County and Prince George's County, where there is $75,000 and $60,000 of taxable wealth for every pupil, it is easier to supply the minimum difference than it is in Baltimore City, where only $31,000 of taxable wealth is available per pupil.
"Plus," said Del. Benjamin Cardin, a member of the state commission that is investigating school spending gaps, "Baltimore City can only afford to spend 25 percent of its budget on schools. They've also got to contend with sanitation, fire, courts, police and a myriad of other services that are now 15 times the per capita cost of any county."
However, Kenneth K. Muir, information director of the Montgomery County school system, said this week that comparisons of spending between Montgomery County and less affluent districts fail to take into account the cost of living in Montgomery County, which he said ranks at the top in the state.
"Those poor districts complain about rich old Montgomery County," Muir said. "But you've got to see that we're spending 50 percent of the county budget on schools. We simply tax ourselves enough to get decent spending for education."
Muir added, though, that "there's no doubt that more money should be allocated in order to equalize spending statewide.The question is how much."