Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday proposed a $19.6 billion budget for Maryland that showers a record amount of cash on education at all levels, including first-time aid to private and parochial schools.
Glendening's proposal to give $6 million to nonpublic schools has been sharply opposed by teachers unions and civil liberties groups, striking one of the few notes of discord over his $3 billion education package. The larger package would boost funding for new and renovated schools and for construction at colleges. It marks the state's first substantial investment in efforts to recruit and retain teachers.
The overall spending plan, which includes more money for transportation and health programs, is 9 percent higher than the current budget and includes only a modest cut in taxes: a proposed elimination of the inheritance tax.
Glendening (D) said he resisted calls by the General Assembly to accelerate a previously approved 10 percent income tax cut because he believes most Marylanders want him to invest in education and transportation. He wants to spend nearly half of a surplus projected to reach $940 million on one-time projects and put away $525 million to guard against a future economic downturn.
Glendening's budget reflects his liberal leanings, in contrast with those of Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), who has emphasized tax-cutting in his proposed two-year budget.
Glendening wants to use Maryland's first installment of the national tobacco settlement for cancer research and smoking cessation and drug treatment programs. He is seeking is a 14 percent increase--an additional $18 million--for juvenile justice programs that advocates have long said needed additional funding. And his budget calls for a 4 percent pay increase for state employees both this year and next.
But the biggest financial focus is new money for schools and teachers. "This is an education budget," Glendening said in announcing his plan.
Glendening has touted himself as an "education governor," though his opponents have charged that his interest is only in spending for school construction, with little devotion to improving what happens inside classrooms.
He proposes to address some of those concerns with new funds to recruit and retain teachers. Maryland is facing a need for 11,000 new teachers beginning next year. The governor has earmarked $24 million for signing bonuses, mentoring programs and tax credits for taking additional education courses. Maryland will graduate about 2,500 new teachers this year, and half of them are expected to take jobs outside the state--an exodus Glendening said he wants to stem.
But the governor said the $24 million program won't be effective unless school districts increase teacher salaries to remain competitive with the private sector. A number of districts have been trying to raise teacher salaries but frequently have come up against local tax caps or resistance from taxpayers. Glendening is proposing a $130 million increase in state aid to local governments.
Despite the record sums for education, it is one of the smallest appropriations, for private and parochial schools, that is generating the most controversy.
After pleading from Catholic and Jewish leaders, Glendening also has proposed $6 million for textbook aid to private and parochial schools. Private school parents argue that they effectively pay twice--through their taxes and tuition payments--to educate their children, easing the burden on local governments but getting little in return.
But the move has antagonized civil liberties groups, who see it as violating the separation of church and state, and the potent state teachers union, which resists any diversion of money from public schools.
"It's just bad policy," said Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. "There are lots and lots of children in Maryland who go to public school who don't have nearly the advantages children in private schools have, and he's proposing to give the private schools even more money."
The federal government provides aid to private schools that teach a large number of low-income children. Advocates note that 37 other states provide some assistance to private schools, such as transportation, textbook funding, special education or tax benefits. They say such arrangements avoid constitutional questions because the money benefits the students and not any religious institution.
But Goering warned that taxpayers will end up indirectly subsidizing religious education: "Just the fact that Pennsylvania does it doesn't make it good policy for Maryland."
There is little controversy about Glendening's plan to increase spending by 12 percent for higher education, particularly for the University of Maryland-College Park, where he once taught political science.
College Park will receive $31 million in additional funding, about a 10 percent increase.
C.D. Mote, president of the University of Maryland-College Park, said the increased funding will be used to recruit outstanding faculty from across the country, boost need-based scholarships, expand library collections and increase fellowships for graduate students. He also promised a number of "path-breaking" new programs.
"This is the time when people with neck-snapping initiatives can bring them forward," he said.
Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.