ANNAPOLIS – The battle over control of 11 failing Baltimore schools may have ended in Annapolis, but there still could be some collateral damage.
Officials of school districts across the state, though they were largely on the sidelines during the fractious fight over city schools, are now facing the possibility that they stand to lose federal aid used to serve underprivileged students.
Before the Senate voted to overturn a veto of legislation placing a one-year moratorium on state intervention on behalf of Baltimore schools, state and federal education officials warned that the U.S. Department of Education could withhold grants – currently totaling close to $171 million – that are distributed to all 24 jurisdictions.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Southern Maryland, dismissed the warning at the time as “right-wing malarkey” from a Republican administration getting an early start on the coming elections.
“They’re not going to take money away from schools,” Miller said. “They just want to keep Mayor O’Malley subjugated.”
Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley is a leading gubernatorial candidate.
No matter the motivations behind the warning, local schools officials are left waiting to see if the Bush administration was simply bluffing in an effort to help a Republican, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, avoid a political defeat.
“We are disappointed by the result and will continue to review the department’s options under No Child Left Behind,” Chad Colby, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said in an e-mail about the General Assembly action in blocking state intervention in Baltimore.
A letter from the department of education to State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick on April 5 said that a state educational agency “that does not, or cannot, carry out its statutory responsibilities, particularly with respect to the accountability provisions that are central to the success of NCLB (No Child Left Behind), would be subject to potential enforcement actions, including the withholding of funds.”
Colby declined to comment on the likelihood that the department would act on the warning since the veto override. William Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said state officials are currently working with the federal government and are not sure when the issue is going to be resolved.
“It really has national consequences,” he noted.
The local – and more immediate – consequences could be dire. Edie House, director of communications for the Baltimore City Public School System said the system received around $54.5 million last year of the close to $171 million Title I grants allocated, the highest in the state.
Other top jurisdictions include Prince George’s with close to $29 million, Baltimore County with close to $20 million and Montgomery with around $19 million.
Kent County public schools were allocated close to half a million dollars – the lowest amount in the state. Anne Arundel County was allotted close to $2.8 million, according to information from the U.S. Department of Education.
The information on grants from the federal agency represents the amount allocated to each jurisdiction by the federal government. The actual amount received by the local systems “will be smaller,” according to notations in the data table.
A spokesman for Ehrlich said he did not think that any local school official had contacted the governor to express concerns over the possibility of withheld funds.
According to House, the Baltimore City system is not worried.
“We are going to stand on the interpretation of the attorney general,” she said.
Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said in a letter April 4 that federal funds are not jeopardized by the legislation because it does not “impair the state’s ability to carry out its responsibilities.” The state board can pursue other courses of action under state and federal law, he writes.
Curran is a Democrat and the father-in-law of O’Malley.
Brian Edwards, director of the public information office for Montgomery County Public Schools, said the system is “not going to engage in speculation” about whether it will see a reduction in federal funds.
School officials that could be reached this week repeatedly echoed this hesitation, but also emphasized that these funds are critical to each system.
Title I grants are determined by the number of students in the free and reduced-price meal program in each system.
The U.S. Department of Education released an allocation estimate for next year in early March. The state is slated to receive around $172.5 million, but the final allocations will not be announced until May.
The funding determination aligns “with research that that poverty is the most critical factor in terms of student achievement,” said Allyn Watson, Title I supervisor for Harford County Public Schools. Harford received $3.6 million last year, she noted.
Watson said the system uses the money to hire additional resources and staff in schools with a high percentage of underprivileged students. They hire reading and math specialists, for instance, she said. Watson said she hates “to make predictions” about what will happen with the aid, but notes “there is no way anyone is winning.”