Plan Tying Increased Aid, State Control of Baltimore Schools Backed
A tumultuous, months-long battle over the funding and management of the Baltimore district ended last week when the Maryland legislature approved and the governor signed a bill that boosts state aid for the city's schools in exchange for unprecedented--and potentially permanent--state control of the poorly performing system.
The new law seals a deal struck last year by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, and state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. Education leaders around the country are watching the planned city-state partnership as a test of another method of trying to boost student achievement in a struggling urban district.
The legislation will send $254 million in additional school operating funds to the Baltimore city schools over the next five years.
The law stipulates that a new school board, chosen jointly by the mayor and the governor, will be installed by June 1. The state school board already has submitted candidates for Baltimore's new nine-member board--which will include representatives from education and business--to the Democratic governor and mayor. State leaders expect the new board to choose a chief operating officer by October to replace Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who has said he will not seek the position.
Before passing the measure last week, legislators amended it to make the new management structure permanent in the absence of an outright repeal by a future legislature. The original bill would have vacated the new governance system after five years unless state legislators voted to extend it.
Amendment opponents argued that the new controls should only become permanent if the extra financial help also endures. Supporters of the change said they want to avoid reverting to the old structure if the new one is working.
Last year's settlement agreement, which required legislative approval, put an end to several long-standing lawsuits involving the city, the school system, and the state over funding of the 104,000-student district. ("Deal Gives State New Role in Baltimore Schools, Boosts Aid," Nov. 20, 1996.)
Maryland education leaders who fought hard for the measure were jubilant at its passage last week.
"There was an extreme sense of relief," said Renee Spence, a spokeswoman for the state education department. "I'm ecstatic it's over."
But a block of state lawmakers who had made unsuccessful bids to boost aid for their counties' school systems were frustrated at the outcome. ("Md. Counties Take Aim At Baltimore Aid Proposal," Feb. 12, 1997.)
"I was disappointed that we didn't come up with enough money for all the poor kids from across the state," said Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County, a Washington suburb. "I have no dispute that Baltimore kids need help, but so do the other jurisdictions."
But Delegate Howard P. Rawlings of Baltimore, the chairman of the House appropriations committee who shepherded the bill through the House, said it's only fair that the jurisdiction with the largest percentage of needy schoolchildren gets the most help. Half of the poorest students in the state attend Baltimore city schools, state leaders said.
"It's a case of parents with two children and one is very sick and one is very healthy," Mr. Rawlings said. "You have to make a decision on how to focus your resources," he said, "and most caring parents would make sure the sickest child gets well."