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Md. Panel Proposes Steering More Funds to Poor Districts

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Maryland should overhaul its school-finance system to channel money from the state's most affluent counties to several poorer ones, a commission appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer has urged.

Under the proposal, which would increase the state's education budget by nearly $1 billion over the next five years, such jurisdictions as Baltimore City and Prince George's County would receive more funding, while at least four other counties--notably Montgomery County, an affluent Washington suburb--would see their state education aid decrease.

The state's current $2 billion education budget, which is already slated to increase by $634 million by 1999, would rise by an additional $332 million under the plan.

Currently, 66 percent of state aid is awarded to public schools through a funding formula that benefits poorer districts. The commission's plan would increase that proportion to 75 percent, according to Matthew Keleman, a policy analyst for the commission.

Under the proposed plan, schools would also have more flexibility to use funds earmarked for special projects for general-operating expenses.

In addition, the plan would put a lid on state funding of retirement benefits, thus shifting costs to wealthier school districts, which offer higher teachers' salaries and have higher pension costs.

Poverty Grants Urged

Along with increasing aid to poorer schools, the plan recommends issuing "poverty grants'' to schools with high percentages of students living in poverty.

"Poverty very clearly correlates with poor performance no matter what school district you're in,'' said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, whose Baltimore district would greatly benefit from the proposal.

As an incentive to achievement, the plan also calls on the state to award $100,000 beginning in 1995 to schools that demonstrate overall academic excellence.

But Sen. Laurence Levitan of Montgomery County, whose district stands to lose millions of dollars if the plan is adopted, said increasing funds is not the answer to addressing low achievement.

"The District of Columbia spends more per child than Montgomery County, and it still ends up looking bad,'' he said. "We haven't tapped into the heart of the problem, and throwing money at it isn't the way to do it.''

The commission is planning to hold five public hearings this month and will submit its final recommendations to Governor Schaefer early in December.

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