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Editorial - Put schools above politics

November 19, 1997

A federal trial that began this week in Prince George County may determine what kind of aid schools all across Maryland get next year. If that sounds confusing, it's because it is. We'll try to fill readers in, and suggest a way out, without muddying the waters further.

In 1972, a federal court mandated that schoolchildren be bused away from their neighborhood schools in Prince Georges County, to correct what the court saw then as illegal segregation of students by race.

Now it's 25 years later, and P.G. schools that were once 74 percent white are now 75 percent black. The county wants the court to end busing and return children to neighborhood schools.

It sounds simple, except that the old neighborhood schools can't handle the population growth that's occurred in the past 25 years. The school board and the NAACP have agreed on a plan to would upgrade those schools and build 15 more over the next six years, at a cost of $500 million. County government, which would be liable for half those costs, opposes it, no doubt because P.G. County citizens won't repeal the property tax cap they voted for several years ago.

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Enter Gov. Parris Glendening, who last yeared agreed to a five-year, $250 million deal to upgrade Baltimore City schools. After the state finished the year with a $62.7 million surplus in September, State School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick put together a plan that would give $46 million in aid to help all the state's school systems deal with at-risk children. P.G. would get $9 million, Washington County about $900,000.

That cash is just for operating expenses. In addition, Glendening has proposed special construction aid to P.G. that could cost $250 million over five years.

Before that happens, what the taxpayers should see is not another deal, but a formula that justifies aid based on children's needs, no matter what part of the state they're from. An extra million in operating cash is nice, but not if it means not speaking up for a school-construction formula that focuses aid decisions on the future, and away from the politics of the present.

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