ANNAPOLIS – Although education was named a top concern on Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s agenda, it had a nondescript year in the General Assembly’s 1995 session.
School construction received a record amount of funds, but a bill to abolish the legislative scholarship program once again died in committee.
This was supposed to be the year that members would finally relinquish the 127-year-old senatorial scholarship program, considered by some to be a form of political patronage. The program gives each senator $137,000 and each delegate $13,000 to distribute annually, with few restrictions.
But just before time ran out Monday night, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, announced that a House bill to abolish the program had died in a joint committee.
The House of Delegates had introduced legislation to hand over the $8 million to the state scholarship fund. The Senate, in turn, offered a watered-down compromise that would have set up committees in each district to distribute the awards.
But the House bill will come back again next year, its sponsors said.
Del. Robert Kittleman, R-Howard, who has introduced the same bill in past sessions, said he is optimistic that the Senate will reconsider next year.
“We’ll get there someday,” Kittleman said. “I would guess that Miller would just let it go now that it’s gotten so much bad publicity.”
In approving Glendening’s capital budget – the bill that finances state building programs – lawmakers allocated $114 million for school construction, the highest amount in 15 years.
“The governor feels he did very well in education funding and policy,” said Chuck Porcari, Glendening’s deputy press secretary.
Sen. Ida Rubin, D-Montgomery, said she was happy with her county’s $6.2 million share.
“School construction was a priority in both houses,” she said. “We wanted to make sure school construction funds were available to all counties.”
The budget also included $147 million for higher education construction projects.
Brian Darmody, chief lobbyist for the University of Maryland at College Park, was pleased with the construction money. In addition, Darmody noted, the lawmakers did not cut the budget for day-to-day operations as much as they could have.
“It was a tight budget going in,” he said.
School safety was also a priority this year. Legislators passed the Juvenile Disclosure Act, which requires superintendents to be notified when a juvenile commits a crime.
Del. Henry Heller, D-Montgomery, said he was particularly pleased that both houses passed a bill to coincide with a federal law allowing superintendents to expel students who bring weapons to school.
With an amendment proposed by Heller, the state law will go one step further and allow the superintendents to create an alternative method of discipline if they choose.
“At least we’re getting indirectly to the issue of disruptive youth,” Heller said.
Heller was disappointed, however, that lawmakers did not increase community college funding. He added that it would be a priority next year.
Officials of the Maryland State Department of Education were happy with the outcome of this year’s session, said Rene Spence, legislative liason.
Spence predicted that, with greater experience, lawmakers would take on education reform in 1996. “Next year, we’ll certainly be more seasoned,” she said. -30-