Campaign seeks state funds for private schools Catholic parents are taking part in letter-writing effort

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Catholic school parents across Maryland are writing letters to the governor in the first volley of a campaign by the Maryland Catholic Conference to get public dollars for private schools.

Parents of the 60,000 children in the state's 179 Roman Catholic schools are asking Gov. Parris N. Glendening to put money in his fiscal 1998 budget to support transportation, textbooks and technology for students in nonpublic schools.

"The governor knows how many parents are out there. This is an effort to tell their story," said Mary Ellen Russell, associate director at the conference, the lobbying arm of the three dioceses with schools and churches in Maryland.

Parents are sending the letters to the schools, which are forwarding them to the governor.

Many schools were averaging 80 to 100 letters last week, but others reported limited response to the plea for letters.

Neither Glendening nor the State Department of Education has taken a position on the issue, said Ronald Peiffer, spokesman for the department and state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

"This is somewhat of a new issue. The state superintendent has not had an opportunity to discuss it with the [state] board," he said.

Glendening has received 230 letters during the past two weeks, and wants to meet with Grasmick to prepare a response, a spokeswoman for the governor added.

Although spearheaded by the Catholic conference's Maryland Federation of Catholic School Families, the campaign for public funds would extend to all nonpublic schools.

Based on the average public school spending per student, the federation estimates that parents of Catholic school students save the state $1 million a day, not counting the cost of building and maintaining schools.

In return, the families of nonpublic students are entitled to some state support, Russell said. "It's an issue of fairness for parents who want to send their children to [private] schools and not be penalized."

Russell noted that 28 states provide free bus transportation to students in nonpublic schools. Some, including Pennsylvania, use tax dollars to provide other services: school nurses, speech therapists, textbooks and testing.

Twelve counties in Maryland have laws that allow them to provide transportation for private school students, but only seven of them did so during the 1995-1996 school year, state education officials said.

In the Baltimore area, Howard transported 586 private-school youngsters last year and Carroll carried 60 youngsters to the county's only Catholic school, said Shelly Terry, chief of nutrition and transportation for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties have had such transportation laws for more than 50 years, but do not exercise them.

Catholic school parents, surveyed by the federation in the spring, indicated that vouchers and tax credits were their priorities. But Russell said that is not a realistic goal.

The federation is not asking the governor for a specific amount of money, nor is it suggesting where the money might come from or how it would be administered.

Russell said the state should not cut into the strapped public education budget for funding.

Pub Date: 10/22/96

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