ANNAPOLIS – A Senate Budget and Taxation subcommittee Friday voted to cut Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s proposed $8 million funding for private school textbooks to $5 million.
Despite opposition from state education officials who said public schools should get first consideration, the four-member subcommittee allocated the funds.
Sen. Robert Neall, D-Anne Arundel, supported the plan to use money the state won in a lawsuit settlement with Big Tobacco for private school texts.
“I’m a very strong advocate of public schools…but I don’t see any problem in using some cigarette restitution money…in this manner,” said Neall, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Business, and Administration.
Funding for public schools is already high, Neall said, at almost $4 billion.
Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Economic Development cut out all of those funds with a 4-2 vote.
The House panel voted against it because it, too, felt the money could be better spent on public school funding, said Delegate Nancy Kopp, D-Montgomery, subcommittee chairwoman.
“Aside from that, it was a matter of principle that this was not an appropriate expenditure of public funds,” Kopp said. “It’s not a question about the amount of money.”
The Maryland PTA and American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland oppose the funding.
“We’re opposed to any private school textbook funding, whether it’s $8 million or $5 million or $5,” said Suzanne Smith, Maryland ACLU legislative director.
Sending children to private schools is the choice of parents, said Wanda Hurt of the Maryland PTA, and they shouldn’t expect public money.
“Not once did I ever think that the public owed me something,” Hurt said, referring to her choice to send her children to parochial schools.
Both Smith and Hurt said the state has the obligation to provide a good public education to all children, and until that goal is accomplished, state money should be directed to public schools.
“Until we have provided that education to all the children of Maryland, we should not even be thinking of giving one penny to private schools,” Hurt said.
Budget decisions, including private school textbook funding, were scheduled to be made Friday in the House Appropriations Committee.
Last year, the General Assembly approved $6 million for private school textbooks, in what many legislators thought was Glendening’s first and last funding for that cause.