ANNAPOLIS – Education spending will increase under Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s $22 billion budget released Tuesday, but no money will go to a state commission’s recommendation to equalize finances between poor and affluent districts.
Glendening’s 2003 budget increases public school funding by $161 million, up 6.5 percent, and higher education funding by $68 million, or 5.3 percent. The increases will pay for ongoing programs and expected growth.
“We have always maintained that education is our top priority and we are not wavering from this,” Glendening said.
The budget brings elementary and secondary school funding to $2.6 billion, a 70 percent increase from when Glendening took office seven years ago, according to the governor’s budget summary.
But the state Commission on Education Finance, Equity and Excellence, commonly called the Thornton Commission, had recommended a much bigger boost – $130 million this year and $1.1 billion over five years – to equalize funding for poorer jurisdictions such as Baltimore and Prince George’s County.
Glendening has said he supports the commission’s proposals, but the state can’t afford to begin them this year.
That leaves legislators searching for ways to find the money anyway.
Prince George’s County would have received $40 million this year and $305 million over five years under the Thornton Commission’s plan.
Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, chairman of that county’s delegation, said the budget release marks the beginning of a long negotiating process.
“Certain jurisdictions have to be funded now,” he said. “We are going to push to make sure we get the down payment this year. We can’t afford to put it off. We have to find another way.”
Montgomery County schools, which opposed the Thornton Commission proposal because they would have received the smallest share, weren’t ready to comment on the budget Tuesday afternoon.
The governor’s budget was not a surprise, said Renee Spence, a lobbyist for Prince George’s County schools. She said it is too early in the negotiating process to be disappointed.
“It will go through the normal legislative process,” she said. “You’ll see the powerful chairmen of the budget committees negotiating with the governor in the weeks ahead.”
Legislators can cut programs from the governor’s budget but not add them.
To find money for the Thornton Commission’s plan, other programs will have to give, said Mike Morrill, Glendening’s communications director. The General Assembly would have to cut current services, take away from health care or education increases, or reduce money set aside as a safety net, he said.
“You’d have to shut down programs wholesale. You’d have to stop giving people health care,” Morrill said.
Education comprises the largest share – 35 percent – of the governor’s general fund budget. Most of that spending is mandated by state formulas that provide money for general expenses, transportation and special education. Student population growth and inflation have driven required spending up 5.6 percent, or $118 million.
Spending not required by law rises by 8 percent or $32 million under the budget. That money pays for programs already in place that prop up teacher salaries and keep class sizes low.
“We’ve made a promise to the teachers and students of Maryland that the money would be there,” Morrill said.
The budget also continues funding for early childhood initiatives already in place, providing $19 million for improvements in pre-kindergarten through third grade, and $19.3 million for a program that targets at-risk 4-year-olds.
Any new, ongoing programs such as the Thornton Commission recommendations would require a new, ongoing source of revenue, Morrill said.
The governor supports a House bill to create a commission assigned to find new sources to pay for education, health care and transportation — the state’s top three budget items.
Even if the Legislature comes up with such a plan, implementing it would take time, Morrill said.
Glendening, who is in his last year as governor, would spend new revenue on education if it was available, Morrill said, and lawmakers can revisit the commission’s proposals if the economy improves next year.
“The governor would like to see the recommendations of the Thornton Commission go forward,” he said. “How and when becomes what we argue about.”
– 30 – CNS-1-15-02