The state Board of Education had a rare audience with Gov. Parris N. Glendening today to plead for funding for more than $80 million in new school reform efforts, including a landmark program to require intensive tutoring or summer school for every struggling student.
Board members described the $49 million tutoring plan as an essential "safety net" for thousands of children who are deemed likely to fail the tough new tests Maryland will soon require for high school graduation.
Glendening (D) listened but made few promises. The meeting highlighted the fierce competition for education dollars in a year when both the governor and the appointed board have crafted several ambitious school reform proposals.
Glendening has already promised to seek $8 million over the next two years to place telephones in every classroom, which he says will improve teachers' working conditions. He also wants to offer low-interest mortgage loans to instructors who agree to live near their schools.
The board is seeking $32 million to expand a program of teacher mentoring and training that was created last year, as well as a proposed four-year scholarship for students who agree to teach in Maryland schools for several years after they graduate from college.
The dozen board members, all appointed by the governor, were most forceful in arguing for the tutoring program, known as the "K-12 Intervention" plan.
While they stuck to diplomatic rhetoric today, on other occasions board members have threatened to pull the plug on the graduation tests, which are designed to raise the value of a Maryland high school diploma, if the "K-12" plan is not funded.
The initiative would require school systems to monitor students' progress against state expectations of what they should know by third, fifth and eighth grade. Those who aren't reading or doing math at grade level would be required to attend after-school, weekend or summer remedial classes. Summer school would be mandatory for all eighth-graders who aren't working at grade level.
"We have got to provide additional help to these youngsters, or we're going to have a situation where thousands of them don't graduate," said board member Edward Andrews. "If we get all kids reading on grade level by the end of grade three, we're not going to run into a bad situation down the road."
Glendening appeared receptive to the board's proposal, and he promised that some of the $4.4 billion Maryland will receive in its settlement with the tobacco companies will go to new education programs.
But the governor noted that the settlement and Maryland's booming prosperity have raised the expectations of many interest groups--not just school advocates--who are seeking new funding this year. He also warned that Maryland's ability to spend its new-found wealth is constrained by statutory limits on budget increases.
Glendening, who has increased annual school spending by 40 percent--$637 million--since taking office in 1995, noted that statutory formulas require him to increase school operating funds by $97 million this year. He also must fund a $10 million class-size reduction effort approved by the legislature last spring.
The governor did acquiesce to one of the board's requests today, promising $1 million in salary increases for state Department of Education employees.
State officials also disclosed yesterday that the charitable foundation started by billionaire Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates may be interested in underwriting some of Maryland's pioneering school-reform efforts.
Until now, the Gates Foundation has focused on school programs mostly in the state of Washington. However, Glendening Chief of Staff Major F. Riddick Jr. said the group was intrigued by Maryland's intervention plan, as well as its proposal to take over struggling schools.
Riddick said the foundation won't be making decisions about grants until spring, and he said no dollar figure has been discussed.