- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

ANNAPOLIS A panel that spent two years studying state school funding wrapped up its work yesterday by approving an expensive blueprint for improving education in Maryland.
The Thornton Commission voted 20 to 2 to recommend a $1.1 billion increase in school aid over the next five years.
That would boost the state share of school costs from 41 percent to 49 percent. Federal aid covers about 5 percent of school costs, and the rest comes from local governments.
The commission also recommended increased aid for school transportation, proposed that all school systems be required to offer all-day kindergarten and proposed a basic change in the way the state distributes aid to put more money into school systems in Baltimore city and poorer counties.
The recommendation that the state spend more money on education comes at a difficult time with revenues slumping because of the recession and Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders looking for ways to control spending and balance the budget.
It seeks an increase of $129.9 million next year in addition to the normal growth in the basic school-aid program.
"If the money was there, this is where the governor would put it," said Mike Morrill, Mr. Glendening's communications director.
But he said the governor will get updated revenue figures tomorrow and, "It looks like we're going to have to be doing cutbacks, not add-ons."
He said Mr. Glendening has increased school aid from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion in the past seven years, "an increase we'll be fighting to sustain even in fiscally tough times."
Before the report was wrapped up, legislative leaders said it could be a divisive issue at the General Assembly session that begins Jan. 9 because Baltimore city and poorer counties would get a bigger share than wealthier counties under the new system.
"The battle lines are already drawn," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat.
"I have one very, very strong group that wants to put the Thornton Commission's formula into law with what they call a down payment," he said. "Another strong group is not happy with the formula."
Montgomery County lawmakers say they believe their county already was not getting its fair share of state aid and that the disparity between it and most other school systems will be increased if the commission's recommendations are adopted.
The two votes against the report came from two Montgomery County House members, Republican Jean Cryor and Democrat Shelia Hixson.
Mrs. Cryor said Montgomery County, which already gets less school aid per pupil than most of the rest of the state, was not treated fairly by the commission.
"Montgomery County has severe problems in its educational system. This is not the end for me," she said.
Mrs. Cryor said the report will come to the legislature when it convenes in January and then will go to the House Ways and Means Committee.
She said she hopes the committee "will be more understanding of the fairness issue" than the commission.

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