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Bad school legislation Money battle: While public argues for education spending, counties threaten to cut aid.


AS A PUBLIC SERVICE, here's a glossary to help follow the confusing efforts in Annapolis to weaken a law that guarantees steady local funding for education.

Irony: County executives and their supporters in the legislature fighting to weaken the 10-year-old law that ensures "maintenance of effort" on education spending even as a clamor is heard across Maryland that more money, not less, should be spent on schools.

Chutzpah: When county leaders argue that they can't afford to keep up with school enrollment growth because of a flat tax base, even though they argued a few months ago that the state of Maryland should do that very thing. "Had the state's education investment not exceeded the state's growth rate during the past 10 years, Maryland would be well below the national average in state per-capita education spending," stated the Maryland Association of Counties when it feared a cut in state funding last fall.

Con: A legislative subcommittee has devised an alternative bill with a new name -- and the same corrosive long-term effect. Instead of Prince George's County, for example, losing $37 million in local aid over five years, it could lose $44 to $49 million. That's progress?

County leaders contend that the existing maintenance of effort law penalizes them from investing extra in any one year because it locks them into that higher level. Then, how about a waiver that would allow such a special effort?

County executives argue that they need this change to forge a hammer that would "change the culture" among education officials. We agree that school leaders have been too lax in shrinking bureaucracies. But wielding this annual funding "threat" would harm Maryland's investment in its future and further poison relations between local governments and education boards. County executives run the risk of being tagged "anti-education."

When the Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore surveyed 845 Marylanders recently on public spending priorities, the largest share -- 89 percent -- opposed cuts to public education. As the Maryland Association of Counties itself aptly stated in its press release when it feared state aid cuts just 12 weeks ago: "Cutting education sends the wrong message."

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