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Legislators Trim Schaefer's Plan For Education

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Ending their legislative session with an unusually tranquil final day, Maryland lawmakers approved this month an amended version of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's Action Plan for Educational Excellence, which is expected to boost state spending for education significantly over the next five years.

But to avoid exceeding its self-imposed spending limit for the 1987-88 fiscal year, the legislature trimmed the Governor's requested increase for aid to school districts in the program's first year from about $24 million to $10.1 million, a 1.5 percent increase over last year.

Total general-fund spending on education will rise from $1.364 billion this year to $1.470 billion next year, while total state spending from the general fund will increase from $4.516 billion to about $4.9 billion.

The APEX program sets specific growth targets for the state's per-pupil foundation grant, which is the base figure used to calculate state aid distributed to districts through an equalized funding formula that takes into account local wealth.

Under current law, school districts would have received a foundation grant of $1,817 per pupil from state and county revenue sources next year.

The action plan increases that amount to $1,846 in 1988, to $2,168 in 1990, and to an estimated $2,550 in 1992, at which point the per-pupil amount will be determined by a formula. The figure to be used in 1992 and subsequent years will be 75 percent of the average statewide costs for the two preceding years.

State officials estimate that the increased aid to local districts will cost the state $240 million during the plan's five-year phase-in period.

One goal of APEX, state officials said, is to ensure that the legislature allocates approximately 30 percent of general-fund revenues to education, something it has not done in recent years.

But in approving APEX, the legislature reduced the maximum proportion of general-fund revenues that can be used on education, from 32.8 percent to 31.5 percent.

Previous formulas and alterations had already resulted in a diminishing proportion of general-fund revenues going to education, the state officials said.

Included in the general-fund appropriation for education passed this month is $53.9 million that will be used to service the debt on bonds issued for new school construction.

The legislature also allocated $1- million in new money to the state's extended elementary-education program, which helps districts provide a half-day program for disadvantaged 4-year-olds, bringing the program's total available funding for next year to $3.2 million.

Grants to college students under the state's "distinguished scholars'' program were doubled in the new budget, from $800 to $1,600 per year. Students who intend to go into teaching can receive twice that amount.

The legislature rejected, however, Governor Schaefer's proposal to provide $1.8 million for the creation of a statewide residential mathematics and science high school. It allocated, instead, $100,000 to study the idea.

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