Saying his budget won't bear a new aid program, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has turned down Catholic school parents seeking public money for their schools but held out an olive branch to the vocal lobby, offering to explore an effort to wire nonpublic schools for computers.
"Unfortunately, the constraints on the state's budget will not permit us to undertake the new major aid programs you have requested," the governor wrote in letters to the more than 6,500 nonpublic school parents who wrote to him on the issue. The first group of letters was mailed yesterday.
Leaders of the campaign were disappointed but hopeful.
"We're encouraged that the governor does not appear to be opposed to the concept," said Mary Ellen Russell, associate director for education of the Maryland Catholic Conference, the church's lobbying group in Annapolis.
"The tenor of the letter is sympathetic," she added. "He doesn't sound like he thinks it's such a bad idea. Our task now is to look more closely at the budget to identify how such services could be funded."
Organized by the Maryland Federation of Catholic-School Families, the letter writers had asked for state money to provide transportation, nonreligious textbooks and technology for students in the state's private and parochial schools.
Campaign leaders had not previously put a dollar value on their requests. But in a statement responding to the governor's decision, Russell said that $14 million would buy each nonpublic school four or five computers and would provide math and science textbooks for the 125,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade at those schools.
The governor's proposed budget is expected to total about $15 billion next year.
The state has 1,113 nonpublic schools with about 166,000 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, according to statistics compiled by the state Department of Education. About 170 of those schools are Catholic schools, which enroll nearly 60,000 students.
Despite his refusal of aid, Glendening said in his letter that he is "very sensitive to the constant financial sacrifices that families must make to enroll a child in private or parochial schools."
And he offered assistance to public and private schools interested in a technology-wiring effort similar to Netweekend in the public schools. During that event, which took place on one or more weekends this fall, many public schools in the state were wired for Internet access through corporate contributions and volunteer labor.
"I have directed my chief of staff to work with interested schools to explore whether we can duplicate that effort for your children," the governor wrote.
Although Russell said that she was sure many schools would "be happy to participate" in such an effort, "the commitment to providing technology to all learners needs to be a long-standing one. Wires that have no computers to hook up to them aren't much good."
Pub Date: 12/21/96