ANNAPOLIS -- Sen. Charles H. Smelser said yesterday that he introduced a bill to limit educational mandates because of a requirement that Maryland students perform volunteer work to graduate.
Mr. Smelser, a Democrat who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, said the Maryland Board of Education should not have imposed the graduation requirement last year when local boards opposed it.
He introduced Senate Bill 242 to require the General Assembly to pay for any mandate that would cost $250,000 to implement statewide. The state currently imposes some mandates, which must be paid for by local school boards.
"We may not be here today if it weren't for that," he said at a Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hearing.
State Board of Education President Robert C. Embry Jr. testified that the requirement that students perform 75 hours of public service before they graduate from high school can be implemented at no cost. "This is a very small part of what we're up to. But it's symbolic, and I understand that," he said.
L Mr. Smelser said, "It was ill-advised for you to pass that."
The senator said he introduced a bill last year to repeal the public service requirement, but it failed in committee. Volunteer service is a good idea, but local school boards should have been allowed to implement it at their own pace, he said.
Carroll school board members opposed the requirement because it was forced on them by the state and because county schools already sponsored volunteer programs, William Hyde, assistant superintendent of administration in Carroll, said in a phone interview yesterday.
Mr. Smelser said that if the state Board of Education has a program it wants to mandate, it should ask the governor to include it in his budget to give the General Assembly the opportunity to debate the merits of the program.
More than one-third of the state's operating budget goes to education, he said.
"It is not my intent to attempt to micromanage the state Board of Education. But we all need to be more responsible when it comes to mandates," Mr. Smelser said.
Mr. Embry said he and the state board oppose the bill. The state gives local school boards about $2 billion a year, he said.
Sen. Janice Piccinini, a Baltimore County Democrat, said Mr. Smelser's concern is legitimate.
"I think it [the bill] would create a check and balance," she said.
Frederick County school board member Harry T. deMoll testified in support of the bill. He said his county spends almost $2 million a year on state mandates, many of which deal with noneducational issues, such as at-school health care.
"Local boards have got to balance the outcome against the cost," he said.
Mr. Hyde said the Carroll board supports the concept of Mr. Smelser's bill, but is concerned that it includes a provision to allow the General Assembly to waive the requirement that the state pay for any mandate. That would bring more politics into the process, he said.
Carroll board members also questioned the $250,000 cut-off point in Mr. Smelser's bill, Mr. Hyde said.
Several Budget and Taxation Committee members also questioned the amount. The state Department of Fiscal Services said almost any educational regulation would cost at least $250,000 statewide.
Mr. Smelser said his bill is intended to deal with mandates considered expensive by local boards. "This $250,000 is no magic number. It's a start. I'm open to suggestions," he said.
The Budget and Taxation Committee will vote on the measure later. Senate leadership has ruled that the bill also must pass the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.