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Governor focuses on education; State of State speech urges smaller classes, more teachers and aid

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Launching his second four-year term at a time of fiscal plenty, Gov. Parris N. Glendening called on the General Assembly yesterday to approve significant new spending throughout Maryland's education system.

Delivering his fifth State of the State address, Glendening proposed an 11 percent increase in aid to colleges and universities, new scholarships for future teachers, a $1 billion, four-year program to build and renovate school, and an initiative to reduce the size of some reading and math classes.

With the strong economy fueling larger-than-expected state revenues, Glendening said, Maryland should seize the opportunity to meet important education needs.

"The education agenda I have laid out is ambitious," Glendening told a joint session of the Senate and House of Delegates. "But if we do not dream, if we do not dare, our children will not have the future they deserve."

Legislators greeted Glendening with a five-minute ovation that was more enthusiastic than the sometimes tepid ones of previous years.

The governor also proposed a legislative agenda that includes collective-bargaining rights for state workers and a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Key Democratic legislators predicted that Glendening will have trouble with some of his initiatives -- particularly his proposals on collective bargaining and increasing the state tax on cigarettes -- but they applauded his focus on education.

"If the economy stays as it is, he is going to have four years to continue building on that education legacy, which I think is going to put him in a category by himself among the nation's governors," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat.

Republican leaders had modest words of praise for the governor's emphasis on education but assailed his budget for what they called "dangerous" overspending.

"Governor Glendening may be educating a lot of children who won't be able to find jobs in the state of Maryland because their jobs will be going to other states that have been more prudent in managing their fiscal affairs," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan of Howard County, the House Republican whip.

The governor made no mention of the proposal he embraced two weeks ago to raise the state tax on gasoline to generate more revenue for road and mass transit projects.

Faced with a lack of enthusiasm for the idea from the public and many legislators, Glendening appears ready to shelve the proposal for the year, with the expectation that it will resurface next year, legislative leaders said.

"He hasn't made up his mind as to this year or next," said Ray Feldmann, Glendening's press secretary.

Although Glendening had outlined the provisions of his education plan previously, he presented them yesterday as a package that he said would address problems ranging from crowded elementary school reading classes to the need for science buildings on Maryland college campuses.

Scholarship funds

A key plank is Glendening's inclusion of $102 million in additional state funds for higher education, an 11 percent increase that would include $15 million in new scholarship funds.

"I'm energized," said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "What's clear is, the governor and the legislature are committed to building education in the state."

The governor will also seek legislation that would lead to state grants for local school systems to reduce the size of first- and second-grade reading classes and seventh-grade math classes.

Glendening reversed a campaign pledge by opting to wait a year to include money for the initiative. The governor's aides said newly available federal funds will allow local school systems to hire more teachers in the meantime.

At least one prominent local official was frustrated.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to expect him to honor his promise to start hiring extra teachers to reduce class size to improve reading and math this year," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who campaigned aggressively for Glendening in last year's election.

Glendening's call for additional teachers could put pressure on Baltimore and Prince George's County schools, which would not qualify for full funding under the governor's plan unless they sharply reduced the number of uncertified teachers in their systems.

Calling for improvement in teaching quality, Glendening said he intends to withhold some of the new funding from school systems where more than 2 percent of teachers are uncertified.

Baltimore schools have roughly 1,000 uncertified teachers, close to 17 percent of the total, and the Prince George's system has more than 1,000 uncertified teachers, almost 15 percent. Those figures are by far the highest in Maryland, and the two systems are expected to find it difficult to reduce the number of uncertified teachers so sharply.

"That's going to be a real challenge for the city of Baltimore school system," said Robert Booker, superintendent of Baltimore schools. "I would be concerned about the withholding of funds for school systems that cannot attract certified teachers."

Flanagan said Glendening's emphasis on reducing class sizes, rather than on bolstering teacher training, is misplaced. Instead of requiring that teachers meet certification requirements, he said, the state should insist on "excellence."

"Governor Glendening, because he's beholden to the teachers union, is not in a very good position to take bold steps along these lines," Flanagan said.

Beyond education, the governor made the case yesterday for a diverse, traditionally Democratic legislative agenda.

Cigarette tax

He repeated his call for increasing by $1 the state's 36-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes and devoting much of the proceeds to higher education projects.

Many lawmakers support the idea, but some key legislators are cool to a tax increase, and its prospects are uncertain.

Another major fight is expected over the governor's proposal to write collective-bargaining rights for state workers into law.

Glendening signed an executive order two years ago that gave limited collective-bargaining rights to most state workers. He is expected to propose legislation that would offer broader protections.

The bill has not been made public, but key legislators are predicting trouble if Glendening includes controversial proposals such as allowing state workers to take disputes to an independent arbitrator.

"With some of these more difficult provisions, I think we're going to have a bruising battle," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat.

The governor's proposal for a bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation won applause from gay-rights advocates, who said the measure has a fighting chance in the newly elected Assembly, which is more Democratic and more liberal than the previous one.

"We appreciate the strong backing of the governor's office to push through this major civil rights issue," said Kathleen Nieberding-Ryan, who has lobbied for similar measures in recent years. "This may be the year."

Acknowledging widespread public dissatisfaction with health maintenance organizations, Glendening said he will push for a six-point "bill of rights" for patients.

The bill being drafted would, among other things, guarantee 48-hour hospital stays for patients undergoing mastectomies or surgery for testicular cancer, and give patients easier access to specialists of their choosing.

HMOs' opposition likely

The measure is likely to be welcomed by doctors and patient advocates but opposed by HMOS, who say such proposals would drive up the cost of medical care.

Legislators also got their first glimpse of Glendening's proposed $17.7 billion state budget for next year, which exceeds the Assembly's spending guidelines by more than $150 million.

Republicans sharply criticized the governor for seeking to spend too much of the state's budget surplus on continuing programs rather than on one-time construction projects.

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

Education package

Highlights of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's education proposals:

The governor wants to spend $250 million next year to build and renovate public schools across the state. He says he will propose the same amount in each year of his four-year term, for a total of $1 billion.

He wants to expand a college scholarship program for technology students to cover teaching majors. Scholarships of $3,000 a year would be given to students who maintain a B average and pledge to teach in Maryland after graduation. Over four years, Glendening wants to offer the scholarships to students in all fields.

He is introducing legislation to authorize the hiring of 1,100 additional teachers statewide, but money to pay for them would not come until the second year of his term. The intent is to reduce the size of first- and second-grade reading classes and seventh-grade math classes.

The governor proposes spending an additional $102 million for colleges and universities statewide, an 11 percent increase. In addition, some of the proceeds from his proposed dollar-a-pack increase in the state's cigarette tax would be earmarked for new buildings at several campuses.

In Annapolis

Highlights in Annapolis today:

Senate convenes at 8: 15 a.m., Senate chamber.

House of Delegates meets at 8: 15 a.m., House chamber.

House and Senate committees hold joint hearing on status of Baltimore schools, 3: 15 p.m., Joint Hearing Room, Legislative Services Building.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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