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Gov. Larry Hogan holds a State House news conference on Friday to blast an education bill moving through the General Assembly. The bill would set rules for how the state identifies low-performing schools and restricts the state from enacting certain reforms, such as bringing in private operators for the troubled schools or transferring the students to private schools. Hogan promises to veto the bill.
Gov. Larry Hogan holds a State House news conference on Friday to blast an education bill moving through the General Assembly. The bill would set rules for how the state identifies low-performing schools and restricts the state from enacting certain reforms, such as bringing in private operators for the troubled schools or transferring the students to private schools. Hogan promises to veto the bill. (Pamela Wood / Baltimore Sun)

We were heartened to see Gov. Larry Hogan commit on Sunday to providing additional funding to Baltimore City schools, and to a lesser extent to other districts, to help them cope with expected reductions in state aid next year. His rhetoric about the system has been disappointing throughout much of the debate, and he continued to paint a misleading picture about the district's finances even over the weekend. But the important thing is that he, Mayor Catherine Pugh, system CEO Sonja Santelises and the leaders in the General Assembly are all now publicly committed to softening the fiscal blow the system faced — and the ripple effects the projected $130 million shortfall would have had on teachers, principals and more than 80,000 children and their families.

Governor Hogan's announcement was accompanied by a bit of drama about whether his effort was really necessary. Led by Del. Maggie McIntosh, the House Appropriations Committee chairwoman and a Baltimore Democrat, the legislature crafted its own plan to provide help for the city schools and those in several smaller jurisdictions (including, locally, Harford and Carroll counties) that are seeing reductions in state aid because of declining enrollment. The matter also got caught up in the back-and-forth between the governor and legislature on unrelated issues. In the end, the General Assembly appears poised to move forward with the governor's plan.

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For the people who depend on Baltimore's public schools, the question is not what mechanism the state uses to offer help or who gets the credit. It's whether the state is committed to providing a bridge to the expected revision of the state's education funding formulas in about three years. The General Assembly clearly is; legislation sponsored by Del. Susan Krebs, a Carroll County Republican, provides supplemental grants for the next three years to the city and other districts that have seen recent enrollment declines. It passed the House 124-13. Mayor Pugh and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young are. Both have spoken recently about a desire to shift more city funds into the schools rather than the police department. Mr. Young has set a goal of reallocating $10 million in that manner, and Ms. Pugh has already promised $5.5 million as part of a larger overall package of aid.

Mr. Hogan's commitment has been less clear. Even as he engaged in what were obviously productive negotiations with city and school leaders, he indulged in inflammatory rhetoric about the system, calling it an "absolute disaster" and repeatedly implying that it is wasting money on an epic scale. Discussing the city schools Saturday on WBAL-AM, Governor Hogan talked about the need to "hold their feet to the fire to make sure they're going to take the actions that are necessary."

He went on to say the state spends twice as much per student in Baltimore City as it does in the rest of the state, on average, as if that was the product of some crazed fit of generosity by state leaders rather than the result of a formula that calculates the cost of educating students who come from poor families, require special education services or are non-native English speakers, and then measures the capacity of each jurisdiction to fund its particular needs. Mr. Hogan is certainly correct that Baltimore City provides a smaller percentage of its school district's budget than, say, Baltimore County does, but there's a reason for that. Its needs are greater, and its resources fewer.

But if Mr. Hogan is looking for local districts that aren't pulling their weight, the state actually has a measure for that called "educational effort," and Baltimore City is by no means the lowest on that scale. Caroline, Dorchester, Garrett, Kent, Talbot, Wicomico and Worcester counties all rank lower. Talbot has the distinction of having the second most wealth per pupil and (by far) the lowest educational effort. It gets $133,000 in additional funds in Mr. Hogan's supplemental budget; perhaps its feet should be held to the fire, too.

But if agreeing to an independent audit of the city schools overseen by the state Department of Budget and Management is the price of Mr. Hogan's assistance until new funding formulas are enacted, we have no objection. If there is inefficiency and waste in the city schools — and especially if there is fraud and abuse — let's find it and put a stop to it. If not, we assume Mr. Hogan will drop the "absolute disaster" talk. Either way, the audit represents the governor's investment of political capital, not just the fiscal kind, into the city schools. That's the kind of commitment city parents and students need to see.

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