By Amanda Costikyan Jones
WASHINGTON – As he touted Maryland’s educational accomplishments to a Senate committee Tuesday, Gov. Parris Glendening credited the federal government for the help it has provided.
“Maryland did not make progress alone,” Glendening, a Democrat, said in his prepared remarks. “Our success would not have been possible without the strong, consistent support we have received from the federal government …. I urge you to continue this partnership.”
The other four witnesses before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions were all Republicans who urged the federal government to step back and give states more autonomy.
“Please don’t nationalize education,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge in his prepared testimony. “We must recognize that the states themselves are designing programs that meet their unique needs.”
Glendening agreed with the other witnesses — three governors and a senator who is a former governor — that states should be free to set education policy. He said the federal government’s role in education is, and should continue to be, “providing much-needed resources to the state and helping us raise the bar.”
But other witnesses disagreed that the federal government should help set standards for local schools. Sen. George Voinovich, the former governor of Ohio, criticized the whole idea of federal involvement in education policy.
“For Congress to start mandating a lot of things in the area of education is like the tail wagging the dog,” Voinovich said.
Voinovich also said the Clinton administration has overstepped its bounds where education is concerned.
“I respectfully say that a lot of the things that have come out of the Department of Education are more appropriate on the state level,” Voinovich said. “The president is not the governor of America.”
The committee held the hearing in anticipation of debates on education issues later this year.
“The idea was to go to the people who are really on the front lines, so to speak — the governors — and say, `What do you all need?'” said committee spokesman Joe Karpinski.
“One theme that kept resonating … was they want more flexibility; they want less of a situation where the federal government is telling them what to do,” he said.
Karpinski said Glendening’s testimony was slightly different from that of the Republicans.
“I think Glendening was the only one that credited the successes that they had to the federal government,” Karpinski said.
“Glendening made less of a point of saying, `Don’t give us all of these federal strings along with the federal dollars,'” Karpinski said.
But Michelle Byrnie, a spokeswoman for Glendening, downplayed differences between him and the Republican witnesses.
“All of them basically agree, yes, we need to improve education,” she said. “They’re going about it different ways.
“He was the only Democrat there, so he’s going to differ. … He does support what the president is trying to do” in pushing for state accountability, Byrnie said.
Byrnie said Glendening supports the bipartisan congressional “Ed-Flex” proposal, which would give states more control over how they spend some federal education funds. The proposal is widely backed by governors and members of Congress in both parties.
Glendening’s testimony highlighted Maryland’s accomplishments in classroom technology, school construction, discipline, parent involvement and student attendance and achievement.
“It is no coincidence that President Clinton, Vice President (Al) Gore and Education Secretary (Richard) Riley have all visited Maryland schools repeatedly to promote the concept of high standards and accountability for schools across the nation,” Glendening said.