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State should help pupils before they fail; Intervention plan: Effort to force governor to pay for program next year deserves legislative support.


WHILE Gov. Parris N. Glendening loudly promoted his plan to raise public school teacher salaries, he failed to fully support his own board of education's request for money to help floundering elementary and middle-school students with their reading and mathematics deficiencies.

Now key Senate leaders have decided to incorporate this important early-intervention plan into the teacher pay-raise bill.

It doesn't give the state education board the money immediately, but it would force the governor to put $45 million in the budget he submits next January for this early-intervention plan, the key element in setting up mandatory graduation tests in Maryland.

That's a wise step to see that kids get the help they desperately need before they fall so far behind that they can't catch up.

This worthwhile proposal should have been one of the governor's top priorities this year; it wasn't. Senators now want to make sure the governor fully funds the program in 2001.

The governor belatedly put $12 million into his supplemental budget as a downpayment to help floundering 7th- and 8th-grade students. But he rejected extra aid for 1st- and 2nd-graders who can't read or add at grade level. That's a shortsighted position. It ignores studies showing the critical importance of early intervention.

The General Assembly should force the governor's hand by requiring funding of the full intervention program next year. It would be a clear statement of legislative support for the state school board's reform agenda.

House leaders should view these amendments favorably. The bill already would provide an extra 1 percent pay raise for teachers if local counties ante up 4 percent raises. It also would allocate $3 million to help bail out the near-bankrupt school system in Allegany County, the home of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor.

Adding the early-intervention mandate would complement this catch-all education measure. It would not bust the budget this year. It would give the governor plenty of time to find the $45 million to pay for this important program. And it would send a message to parents that the legislature does, indeed, care about providing help for pupils before they fail.

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