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Education programs plead for funds from delegates; Legislature wants to cut $140 million from budgets


Sally Michel has had impressive success persuading businesses, foundations and individuals to donate to Supercamp, the summer program that aims to boost reading skills of Baltimore third-graders.

But yesterday, sitting in a House of Delegates hearing room, Michel recognized she had her work cut out for her.

Supercamp may be one of the 29 educational programs that won financing in the governor's proposed budget for next year, but it now must win over a legislature looking to slash at least $140 million. The fight for a share of the funds will be daunting.

"There are very worthy programs in there, all asking for the same money," said Michel, who is chairwoman of the Parks and People Foundation, which oversees Supercamp, after making her pitch to a House Appropriations subcommittee. "I don't envy the delegates the task of deciding who gets what."

Among those competing for state funds are such established programs as the Baltimore Zoo, Outward Bound and the Maryland School for the Blind -- which has been partially funded by the state since the 1850s.

Delegates made clear that the most vulnerable of the 29 groups requesting money are the newest. Those are Supercamp, which the governor wants to give $1 million, and the Port Discovery children's museum, which is hoping for $100,000.

"Every new expenditure and every new program is being scrutinized very carefully," said Del. Nancy K. Kopp, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the subcommittee. "The money to do more is going to be hard to come by."

The governor wants to spend roughly $20 million on the 29 programs. Kopp pointed to an analysis by legislative aides, who recommend freezing spending at $17 million -- and giving Supercamp and Port Discovery nothing.

As legislators heard representatives from the two new programs make their appeals, they signaled that the cuts would be painful.

Supercamp, which will enter its third summer in June, has used private money and $1 million from Baltimore to fund eight weeks of summer reading programs for 1,600 third-graders. The new state funding would enable them to add 1,000 students this year.

"Aside from the benefits of improved reading," Michel said, "we help children gain an improved self-esteem, which is crucial at an age when children are making their decisions about the use of drugs and involvement in the drug world."

Port Discovery, which opened in December, touted its success in drawing 45,000 visitors in 42 days.

"We're here to develop skills for our kids to succeed in their lives," said Kathy Dwyer Southern, the museum's president and chief executive.

State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick appealed to the delegates on behalf of all 29 programs that are seeking funding.

"There is no question as to the educational value of these programs," Grasmick said. "They are a fundamental supplement to classroom education."

Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard County Democrat, pleaded to Grasmick to help the delegates decide where to trim.

"We never hear from you which programs on this list don't work as well," Turner said.

"All of them work," Grasmick replied.

"One hundred percent of them?" Turner asked.

"The ones that don't work didn't make it to the list in the first place," she said.

Outside the hearing room, key legislators praised Supercamp but said it was hard to predict whether the Assembly would authorize money for it.

"It's a wonderful program, but it's not an institution," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat who heads the budget committee. "I can't tell you if a million dollars from the state is reasonable or not. That's a healthy leap -- from zero to a million dollars."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said cuts in some of the governor's requests are inevitable because his budget is more than $140 million above the Assembly's spending limits.

In Annapolis

Highlights in Annapolis today:

House of Delegates meets. 10 a.m. House chamber.

Senate meets. 10 a.m. Senate chamber.

Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hearing on SB 142, to create an investment fund for social programs. 1: 30 p.m. Room 100, Senate office building.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing on drunken-driving bills. 1 p.m. Room 300, Senate office building.

Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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