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Overheated rhetoric

January 13, 1997

The attempt by Baltimore legislators to characterize opponents of a proposed quarter-billion-dollar school funding lawsuit settlement as racist and/or heartless is a counter-productive tactic that should be abandoned immediately. Backers of the settlement must prove that more money is really the answer here.

Right now, skeptics are pointing out that some of Maryland's rural school districts spend less per-pupil, yet achieve higher test scores. In addition, some also resent the fact that the legislature was, for the most part, left out of the settlement talks.

Some other lawmakers are upset that the agreement contains an automatic trigger to reinstate the suit, should future legislatures not agree to year-by-year funding.

When Montgomery County lawmakers began expressing doubts publicly, wondering if more money for Baltimore would mean less state cash for their area, Del. Howard Rawlings, D-Baltimore, suggested that the county's legislators had a "character defect" that prevents them from seeing how different areas of the state are tied together. State Sen. Barbara Hoffman, B-Baltimore, went further, suggesting some lawmakers feel that black children can't learn, so that any additional money spent on them would be wasted.

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This sort of rhetoric is not helpful, especially in view of the fact that the state school funding formula pays a greater share of per-pupil expenses in Baltimore than it does for any other area.

Stripped of its emotional rhetoric, the issue is not whether white lawmakers want to help black schoolchildren, but whether more money for Baltmimore's schools (and a voice for the governor in appointing city school board members) is the answer. If the heart of the problem is the family situations of the students, perhaps some of the money would be better spent on programs to teach parenting skills, for example.

Whatever the answer, we hope Baltimore officials and Gov. Parris Glendening can make the case that this settlement is a tool for real improvement and not an attempt to placate concerned constituents with money.

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