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Baltimore schools

June 13, 2000

How much money is enough? And more important how long can Maryland proceed without a real plan to fix its failing schools?

We ask these questions because once again, Baltimore school officials, who never got $1 in state money without wondering aloud why it wasn't $1.25, are going back to court to get from a judge what they couldn't get from the Maryland Assembly - millions more in state funding.

If all this sounds familiar, taxpayers may recall that in 1996, the state settled (or thought they had settled) the same case, brought by schools officials and the American Civil Liberties Union. In exchange for $250 million in new money over five years, Baltimore gave the governor some control over the city's school board and agreed to withdraw their litigation.

At the end of those five years, the state agreed to negotiate for even more money and this year agreed on $25 million in new cash. Not good enough, say the litigants, who feel that a $49 million hike in their annual funding would be more adequate.

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We know what the poorest of the poor in Baltimore face, and if giving the city this cash would guarantee them a decent education, we'd be glad to fork it over. But according to Maryland Department of Education, Baltimore City already gets $2,840 in state aid for every pupil. Would another $500 do the trick. Or $1,000, maybe?

We're not confident that anyone knows. The state, which was supposed to take over some failing Baltimore schools, recently did so after years of second chances. But instead of running them with state employees, the state hired private contractors to do it, suggesting they didn't know what needed to be done, or how to do it.

The state should not settle the case this time. It should go to court and make the city prove that if given more cash, it will not waste it. Prosperous times are nice, and during them, everyone is prone to grab for more. But before the state grants the city any more cash, we want a plan and some assurance that state-level officials will be capable of monitoring the city's ability to carry it out.

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