THE GOVERNOR'S signature on an education aid package represents renewed hope for Baltimore's beleaguered public schools. Beset by failing scores on statewide performance tests, lawsuits and court orders challenging its ability to deal with special education students, and decreasing confidence on the part of many parents, Baltimore City's public schools have been battered by years of criticism. Now they have a rare chance for a fresh start, bolstered by additional money and new management.
Behind the long struggle lies one central fact: The schools' success in educating city children is essential to the economic and social health of Maryland. Equally central has been the unshakable belief on the part of reformers that, given a chance, poor city children can succeed in school despite the burdens of poverty.
School reform is risky business, in part because failure has such far-reaching consequences, but also because reforms often get caught in political tugs-of-war. Those pressures were always simmering in this debate. But fortunately, the impetus for change was stronger than the forces pushing for the status quo.
Many people deserve praise for keeping the reform effort on course. City Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings spent five years laying the groundwork for management accountability and increased aid. Baltimore Sen. Barbara Hoffman rallied solid support in her pivotal -- and conservative -- Budget and Taxation Committee. City Sen. Clarence Blount gave a persuasive last-minute floor speech decrying politically motivated attempts to sabotoge the package. Meanwhile, Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and the State Board of Education kept a steady focus on the education issues at stake. Mayor Kurt Schmoke made clear his belief the city was getting the best deal possible.
Despite all that, opposition flourished, both from suburban counties determined to ratchet up their own levels of aid and from city partisans who saw the mayor's somewhat reduced control over the school system as an attempt to wrest power from a majority-black city. That argument, however, overlooks the fact that even under the new arrangement, the mayor retains far more say in school board appointments than any county executive.
The next challenge is to move forward quickly, appointing a strong school board and putting in place a forceful and respected chief executive. In school reform, time wasted means futures blighted. School children can't wait. Their futures hinge on schools that work now, not on changes promised at some later date.
Pub Date: 4/10/97