ANNAPOLIS – After two committees excluded other localities from the Senate version of the Baltimore school settlement Wednesday night, the question remains whether the House will follow their lead or try to provide education money for the entire state.
Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, vice-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said the House committees are approaching a consensus on the bill. “The funding is where the hang-up is right now,” he said.
The legislation already allocates $254 million to Baltimore’s schools over five years. But proposed amendments would spend an additional $300 million or more during the same time on education throughout Maryland.
The House committees are under substantial pressure from certain counties — notably Prince George’s and Montgomery — to expand the school aid package, Conway said.
The legislation stems from lawsuits against the state by Baltimore and the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming city children were being deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education. The bills now pending are part of a settlement negotiated by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the litigants.
Several counties have claimed that their schools have similar problems and therefore deserve similar funding packages.
“We say that a poor child in Prince George’s County is as deserving of support as a poor child in Baltimore City,” said Del. James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s.
Rosapepe is the vice-chair of the Ways & Means Committee, which joins the Appropriations Committee in wrestling with the House version of the bill.
Although he understands such concerns, Conway said the city is his top priority. “I think the Baltimore City schools are broke and … we’ve got to fix them,” he said. But he said he would also support funding other state schools, within fiscal limits.
The Senate committees — Budget & Taxation and Economic & Environmental Affairs — resisted pressure from the county executives of several of Maryland’s largest counties in recommending that the full Senate deal only with the city’s schools.
“The last time I checked, none of [the county executives] had a vote in the Senate of Maryland,” said Sen. Michael J. Collins, D-Baltimore County.
Many senators support the idea of providing aid to all state schools, but contend the funding simply is not available.
“The money is not there,” said Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D- Baltimore, who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee. “Those who think it is are into wishful thinking….
“Right now we have to deal with the possible,” she continued. “The impossible might have to wait until later.”
Sen. Gloria Lawlah, D-Prince George’s, said she hopes school funding for other counties will come up in the future.
Lawlah voted for the Baltimore City school settlement in committee, but asked the Baltimore senators to remember her support if funding for Prince George’s schools ever becomes such an issue. If the House fails to reconcile its goals with those of the Senate and the bill fails, the issue will wind up back in court, according to the governor’s press office. -30-