ANNAPOLIS – Teachers in Maryland’s prison schools and their inmate students rejoiced Tuesday over a decision by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to restore funding for prison education programs.
“It’s exhilarating,” said Debra Banzhoff, who teaches computer skills at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup. “We worked very hard to get our programs restored.”
When Banzhoff told her students, “Everybody was cheers and applause,” she said.
Under a supplemental budget released Monday night, Glendening put nearly $3 million back into the state budget for programs that help inmates earn the equivalent of a high school diploma and learn work skills such as masonry and auto repair.
Those programs would have been all but eliminated under the governor’s previous spending plan, which would have cut 57 prison-school jobs by April 30 for a savings of $3.6 million.
The governor’s reversal coincided with release of a new study saying that at least half of all state prisons have cut education programs in the past five years.
The study, unveiled Monday by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., found that one third of America’s prisoners are so poorly educated that they have difficulty completing such simple tasks as reading a map.
Inmates who enroll in prison education programs are more likely to find employment after their release and are less likely to return to prison, the study said.
Glendening had initially defended the cuts by saying he preferred to direct money away from prisoners and toward public schools in a tight budget year.
But the governor reversed course after numerous lawmakers argued that the prison-education programs actually save money by reducing the number of people who return to prison.
At least 31 senators, including Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D- Baltimore, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, made that argument in letters to Glendening last month.
In the House, Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings, D-Baltimore, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was among the many delegates who wrote to the governor asking for restoration of the prisoner programs.
Maryland legislators do not have the power to add spending to a governor’s budget proposal. But they can make additional cuts and ask the governor to use the savings to restore programs, which is what they did in the case of prison education.
Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann said separate budget cuts proposed by lawmakers gave the governor room to restore the targeted programs. Even after restoring prison education, Feldmann said, the governor is on track to cut state spending more than he had originally planned.
Teachers and principals whose jobs were targeted also lobbied hard to have the programs restored.
Brad Keller, a principal at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown and leader of the lobby effort, said targeted employees met six times to plan strategy.
“We spent easily over 1,000 hours on this,” Keller said. The employees wrote letters, made phone calls and visited their representatives in the General Assembly. -30-