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State panel revises ambitious school funding plan


Bowing to the governor's wishes and fiscal reality, a gubernatorial commission yesterday scaled back dramatically its school funding proposal for the 1994 legislative session.

The commission backed off a major change it had proposed in the state's education funding system that would have sent tens of millions of dollars more to poorer jurisdictions, including Baltimore.

It also scaled back its request for an additional $69 million for schools next year. Instead, it asked for $47.3 million.

"This governor was not going to support that proposal to the General Assembly," said commission chairman Donald P. Hutchinson.

Yesterday's decision acknowledged what has been clear for weeks: the commission's ambitious plan to revamp state education funding and help poorer counties was in deep political trouble.

The state currently sends about $2 billion a year in education money to Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore. Two-thirds of that money is divided in a way that favors poorer school systems.

The commission, impaneled in May, had recommended tilting the system even more toward poorer jurisdictions and spending an extra $332 million over the next five years.

The governor, however, recently said that the state could not afford the large funding request for next year because of the recession. Legislators from Montgomery County, which would have received $21 million less under the plan than under current law, had vehemently opposed it.

Given the opposition and fiscal constraints, the commission decided yesterday to give the governor a short wish list that includes targeting $20 million in new state aid to schools with poor children.

Schools would receive $1,500 grants for each child living in poverty. But only those with plans to redesign programs for poor students would be eligible.

The grant program would significantly help Baltimore City, which has the majority of poor students in the state.

The commission's overall $47.3 million funding recommendation for next year, however, far exceeds the $20 million or so the governor has said he thought the state might be able to afford.

"There is not the . . . new money around even to fund these proposals," said state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

At least one commission member criticized the decision to submit the revised proposal. Sen. John A. Cade, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said the commission should have been honest and given the governor its original recommendation.

"I'm just appalled that we're willing to cave in," Mr. Cade said. "Let the governor and the General Assembly decide."

In addition to the proposal for next year, the commission decided make a longer-term recommendation. When the state rebounds from the recession, it should spend $550 million more over five years to fund the panel's original plan.

Mr. Cade, however, offered a grim prognosis for the long-term report. "If it's thick enough, it will be a doorstop," he said. "If it's not thick enough, it will go in somebody's bottom drawer."

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