ANNAPOLIS – A powerful senator and 72 delegates are moving to assure full funding of a landmark education reform bill by abolishing a trigger that would provide about $2 billion less in education funds over four years.
The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002, often called the Thornton plan, includes a stipulation that the General Assembly approve full funding of the final years of the $1.3 billion plan through a joint resolution by the 50th day of the session.
If the resolution is not passed, “Thornton Lite” takes effect and education dollars increase yearly at a lower rate, with a $2 billion difference over four years.
A House bill introduced Wednesday would void the joint resolution requirement and assure full funding for the Thornton plan through 2008.
The Senate version introduced Thursday by Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, is similar.
“We wanted to take any questions out of the minds of the public, the Legislature and the administration that we were not going to fully fund Thornton,” said Currie. “Removing the trigger removes any doubt.”
The trigger was included by the House of Delegates because some members worried the state would not have the funds to support Thornton at its highest rate, Currie said.
Maryland has a projected budget shortfall in fiscal year 2005 of about $800 million.
Discussion over the trigger has surfaced before, including when the Attorney General’s Office determined that questions about its constitutionality could arise.
“We pointed out that it could be construed to be a legislative veto, which many courts have ruled to be unconstitutional,” Assistant Attorney General Bob McDonald said.
Currie would not say if he was worried the trigger would be initiated – Thursday was the 16th day of the session and the resolution to apply the trigger had not yet been introduced – only that “The only constitutional responsibility we have is to fully fund education.”
State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, however, said she was more cautious about the trigger’s future.
“I want the full funding to continue,” she said. “I’m never confident about the General Assembly. I don’t take anything for granted.”
Supporters of the Thornton plan were already hit once this session when the education budget released Jan. 21 by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. did not include about $45 million in funding for cost of living differences among Maryland counties, which the Attorney General ruled was not mandatory.