ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris Glendening said he will increase funding for private school textbooks in his next budget request, enraging opponents who thought that $6 million for that purpose this year was a “one-time deal.”
Critics have already begun a lobbying effort that one opponent said “is gonna get nasty,” as they fight to end what they see as unconstitutional funding.
“We have a constitution in the state of Maryland that guarantees an adequate, free, thorough public education for all students. The key word is public,” said Wanda Hurt, vice president of legislation for the Maryland PTA. “We do not have an adequate public education in Maryland at this time.
“Until we provide an adequate, free, thorough education for all public students, we should not be thinking about giving anything to private schools,” said Hurt, specifically highlighting a lack of funds for Baltimore City schools.
Glendening, in a meeting with Capital News Service reporters this week, confirmed that he will include state funding for private and parochial school textbooks in his budget requests for the next two years.
He could not say how much he will ask for in the fiscal 2002 budget he will present to the General Assembly in January, except to say that it would “increase slightly” from the current level.
The governor said it was never his intention to drop funding after one year.
“We agreed to have a three-year program which would have a slight expansion of funding each year for the textbook program,” Glendening said.
But Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, said the only reason the funding passed by a slim margin this year was because legislators, including herself, thought it was for one year only. Hoffman, who is chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said she doubts the funding will make it very far in the legislature next year.
“I think it was meant to be a one-time infusion. I was willing to (vote for it) because I thought public schools would be adequately funded and in fact in Baltimore City, they were not,” Hoffman said. “I personally could not vote for it again until public funding is fixed.”
While the state has long provided support to private colleges, this year was the first time it has ever funded textbook purchases by private schools. The proposal drew strong opposition from a coalition of groups, including the ACLU of Maryland, the state teachers union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the PTA and religious organizations from Jews to Presbyterians.
But other religious groups backed the funding, and applauded Glendening’s plan to renew it. Rabbi Herman Neuberger, who led the fight for money for Orthodox Jewish day schools, said the governor is “fulfilling a desperate need.”
The executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, which has long sought state help for parochial schools, said the aid is an “investment in the future” that will not hurt the public school system.
“We are very pleased that the governor had seen it fit for a second year,” said Dick Dowling of the Catholic Conference. “Any money dedicated to nonpublic school purposes will not, in any way, diminish the state’s public schools.”
“We want to ensure public schools receive full funding,” said Dowling, who noted that many Catholic students attend public schools.
The governor and supporters justified the spending this year by emphasizing that it was not coming from taxpayer’s money, but from the 1998 tobacco settlement.
But Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s County, said it “doesn’t make a difference where the money comes from.”
“If it comes from the cigarette restitution fund, it ought to go to cigarette cessation and education,” Hubbard said. “It’s all tax dollars.”
Dowling conceded that this year would be more of an “uphill fight” because many legislators promised to vote for textbook funding only one time.
“We will do everything we can to convince legislators they will be making a sound investment when they support close to 130,000 children in nonpublic schools,” Dowling said.
Legislators like Hubbard, who voted against the measure this year, are not likely to change their minds, however. Hubbard said he is concerned the governor has started a wave of “bad policy.”
“He started a trend last year that he will never be able to stop,” said Hubbard.