Maryland Speaker of the House Benjamin L. Cardin, citing an urgent need to bolster classroom teaching, said yesterday that he plans to push legislation that would make local governments and school systems more accountable for how state aid for education is spent.
Speaking before 600 delegates of the Maryland State Teachers Association at a conference in Ocean City, Md., Cardin, an undeclared Democratic candidate for governor, said his proposals would ensure that state education funds are used "where they belong--directly in the classrooms."
Cardin proposed that all increases in the state share in educational aid for local jurisdictions be used for that purpose. In the past, some jurisdictions, after meeting minimal educational needs, used leftover state education funds for other purposes, he said.
Cardin also said he wants an independent state board or commission, consisting of educators and members of the public, created to approve the programs funded by the state. He said the independent board also would be responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of those programs.
Despite the increased state role in education, Cardin said these measures would not usurp local control of school systems because each system still would set its own standards and decide what areas of instruction to concentrate on.
He said he does not believe the legislature should mandate performance standards in the public schools, as other states have done.
"We want to preserve local control and creativity, but the state has an obligation to make sure that state funds are used in an accountable way," Cardin said in an interview yesterday.
Tom Gray, a lobbyist for the teachers association, said the response to Cardin's proposals was "very enthusiastic. . . . He said many things that are supportive of the goals of our own organization."
Association President Janice A. Piccinini said the membership has been long concerned with how some counties spend dollars earmarked for education. "For example, the Prince George's County school system spent $881,000 on legal services last year. At the same time, they laid off 500 teachers because of lack of funds," Piccinini said.
Piccinini said she had some reservations about Cardin's proposal to have a state commission or board review local school programs.
Gray said the teachers will seek to have their input included in the review process and added that such a commission should not be too restrictive.
Montgomery County's school superintendent, Wilmer S. Cody, said he could not comment on Cardin's proposals because he had not studied them but added, "I certainly believe state funds for education should be spent on education and not used to supplant other services." Prince George's County Superintendent Edward J. Feeney was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Cardin did not specify in his speech how much money the state legislature might approve for education during its next session. However, a task force established by Gov. Harry Hughes is studying a series of proposals to increase state aid for education over the next five years. Adoption of any of those proposals would mean millions of dollars in new state aid for public schools in the state's 23 counties and Baltimore.
Cardin said he thought some of the state funds should be used to keep experienced teachers in the classroom. But Cardin stopped short of endorsing a merit pay plan for teachers. Piccinini said the teachers association opposes the concept.
In other action, the teachers association voted to support the National Education Associations' endorsement of presidential candidate Walter Mondale.