ANNAPOLIS – Backers of a state panel’s school reform plan stepped up pressure on the General Assembly Wednesday, calling for its full funding.
Schools need an extra $130 million next year and $1.1 billion over five years, according to a two-year state-ordered study by the Commission on Education Finance, Equity and Excellence, commonly called the Thornton Commission.
Voters overwhelmingly support the plan and half would accept tax increases to pay for it, said members of the newly formed Coalition to Support the Thornton Commission, citing results of recent polls by Lake Snell Perry & Associates Inc. and by Potomac Inc.
“This is not a matter of money, it’s a matter of priorities,” said Carl Stokes of the New Maryland Education Commission. “It’s a constitutional obligation.”
Gov. Parris N. Glendening did not fund the plan in his proposed $22 billion budget. Now lawmakers will have to negotiate, compromise and cut programs if schools are to receive any of the recommended money.
“The recommendations of the Thornton Commission cannot be left to gather dust on the shelf while our students are left to flounder,” said Pat Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teacher’s Association.
The committee recommended that the state take on a greater share of school funding and that money be distributed more equitably, bringing poor districts such as Baltimore and Prince George’s County in line with more affluent ones such as Montgomery County.
“It is unconscionable that where a child lives determines whether or not he or she receives a quality education,” Stokes said.
The plan has earned praise from legislators, school officials and even the governor, but its future remains uncertain.
“There’s always hope, said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, Jr., D- Allegany. “But this is not a question of hope, it’s a question of money.” It is “very unlikely” the recommendations can be funded this year, he said. “And nobody wants to fund Thornton more than I do.”
Glendening’s budget increased education spending by $161 million but did not provide for any new programs. It balances the budget by postponing a tax cut and drawing on surplus funds, but some analysts say it leaves a $1 billion shortfall the next year.
Glendening has not made education enough of a priority, according to Advocates for Children and Youth, which says his overall spending has risen more than his education spending.
“That is a complete mischaracterization,” said Glendening spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie. She said the governor would fund the commission’s findings if he could. “Education has received the largest share of the governor’s budget every year.”