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Editorial - One use for the surplus

December 10, 1997

It's an elected official's dream: With an election year looming, the budget suddenly shows a large and unexpected surplus. That's the situation facing Maryland lawmakers now, and it will take some real strength of character to resist the temptation to make 1998 the year that nobody in Annapolis says "no."

How big is the surplus? By next June 30, it could be close to $900 million, way more than anyone predicted. But their failure to predict it hasn't stopped some lawmakers from dreaming up ways to spend it.

Del. Robert Kittleman, R-Howard, make a persuasive argument that it's the people's money and that when times are good, it ought to be returned to them. The state budget director's office says business groups want additional funds for work force development, and that advocates for the disabled want additional cash for services.

Gov. Parris Glendening hasn't said much about those areas, but does favor more health-care dollars for pregnant women and children, and school cash - for instruction and construction.

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But before this budgetary pie is carved into a hundred tiny pieces, let us suggest that some of the cash be put aside to create a trust that would fund scholarships for students who work hard, but don't test well. We got the idea from Texas, where in reaction to court action restricting affirmative action, the state is granting admission to any state college to students who finish in the top 10 percent of their classes.

Don't have a good score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test? Don't have the right mix of extra-curricular activities? It doesn't matter in Texas, as long as a student's grades are up.

The idea, in line with Maryland and national PTA policies, is that one test (or even a series) shouldn't determine a student's future. Grades, earned over a four-year high-school career, are a fairer and more reliable indicator of probable success in college.

Before this surplus slips away, Maryland should put some of it aside to create a foundation that would help students whose success is the result of years of hard work as opposed to one brilliant performance on a test.

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