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Maryland Lawmakers Override Veto; Baltimore Schools Stay in Local Control

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The Maryland Senate on April 10 joined the House in voting to keep 11 Baltimore schools under local control, upsetting the first-ever attempt by a state to take over failing schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, vetoed a bill on April 7 that sought a one-year moratorium to prevent the state board of education and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick from restructuring those schools or removing any others from the direct control of the Baltimore school board.

But only three days later, 30 of the Senate’s 47 members overrode that veto. The House voted April 8 to override the veto on a 97-42 vote. Both votes in the Democratic-controlled legislature were largely along party lines.

The override came despite a threat from Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon, who wrote to Ms. Grasmick last week threatening to take away $171 million in federal Title I funds from Maryland if the state fails to restructure the 11 schools.

But Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran, an elected Democrat, said in a recent opinion that the bill blocking the Baltimore takeovers does not jeopardize federal funds for the state.

Powerless to Help?

In his veto message, Gov. Ehrlich said he was “deeply concerned” the bill would “delay the urgent help we must deliver to the principals, teachers, and children in these schools.”

Under the federal NCLB law, states are required to use any of five options for intervening in schools that fail to meet annual performance targets for five consecutive years, including restructuring and takeovers.

By spring 2009, all Maryland students must pass the state’s high school assessments in order to graduate.

“Unfortunately, the pass rates for the four identified Baltimore city high schools and the seven identified middle schools are not at all hopeful. Lead time is critical in helping implement a viable curriculum and strong instruction to abate the current tide of failures,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

Ms. Grasmick told Education Week in an interview on April 6 that an override of the veto would leave the state powerless to help the failing schools.

“One should be concerned about the circumstances of the students,” she said. “When we look at the reforms, we look at a world that’s increasingly competitive. Thousands of students that have not received a high school diploma in the state should be alarmed” if the state is not allowed to implement the reforms.

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