Carroll, Howard and Frederick counties could teach the state Department of Education a thing or two about how to spend money, Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, said yesterday.
"These counties fund for success," Dr. Grasmick told a gathering of more than 50 area reading teachers at Western Maryland College in Westminster.
"Almost half the states are in litigation over school funding," Dr. Grasmick said. "Maryland wanted to be bold and say, 'We don't need . . . litigation to do something right.' "
An education financing commission created by Gov. William Donald Schaefer is looking at the three Central Maryland counties to learn "what represents adequate funding for schools.
"These counties can do it for X dollars," Dr. Grasmick said, referring to the results they get for the money they spend.
She said a new state financial formula could allow more money for such circumstances as a high percentage of students in gifted or special education classes. It could allow more money for districts with more poor students or students with limited English.
For high-performing counties, she said, the commission is looking at ways to provide monetary incentives for teachers to keep up the good work.
"It will be a new way of looking at funding in a state and a pretty innovative one in the country," she said.
"It is going to mean additional dollars, because education does not have enough to do what it is required to do for children."
However, she said, schools will have to prove they are using the money well.
"Taxpayers and legislators won't spend another dollar for education," she said, unless schools are accountable for how they spend it.
Carroll spends $5,189 per student; Frederick spends $5,327 and is the median for the state; Howard spends $6,481, second only to Montgomery County's $7,377.
The lowest spending per student in Maryland is $4,706, in Caroline County. The average is $5,823. All numbers are from the Education Department's 1993 Fact Book.
Dr. Grasmick said the state's top priority is to help schools whose students are performing poorly. She said the focus will be on children from infancy to age 5, helping to prepare them for school and preventing problems before they begin.
One goal, she said, is to assure that "all children will come to school ready to learn."
"Poverty alone is only one of those reasons" why some are not ready, she said.
Some states are combining education departments with others, such as social services and health, that deal with children. In addition to her education post, Dr. Grasmick also is Gov. William Donald Schaefer's special secretary for children and youth.
Other issues surfacing this year include refining the 3-year-old criterion-reference tests for grades three, five and eight.
The third-grade test, especially, has raised concerns from teachers that it is not well-matched to the development of children that age, Dr. Grasmick said.
She asked the teachers at the meeting to contribute to her staff's effort to refine the test. She said it has improved since last year.
"This year, I got five letters, as opposed to 1,200," she said.
Dr. Grasmick lauded members of the Carroll Reading Council, who are teachers and administrators, for putting their own time into growing as language teachers.
"Excellent language skills in many ways define our humanity," she said, noting that she learned that from working with deaf children. "We see Carroll County as very much state-of-the-art."
The Reading Council is affiliated with the State of Maryland Division of the International Reading Association.