- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Maryland's Senate Budget and Taxation Committee yesterday voted to direct $5 million in taxpayer funds to buy textbooks to be used in private schools.
The committee's 8-5 vote on the issue was part of action that sends Gov. Parris N. Glendening's $21 billion budget to the Senate floor $225 million leaner.
Last year, $6 million that Mr. Glendening set aside for private-school textbooks cleared the Senate in a 27-19 vote, and about $5 million of that is slated to benefit schools that applied for grants.
Some legislators who supported textbook aid last year said they were not sure they would again, especially with the economy slowing.
Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat on the budget committee, complained before voting against the private aid that more legislative effort was expended for the private-school aid than for extra public-school funding urged by a special commission.
"People are taking their kids out of public school," Mr. Currie said, noting that his child is the only member of his soccer team in a public school.
It is difficult to predict how close the Senate vote might be this year.
But the committee's action sets the Senate up for a fight with the House, which gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a budget the House Appropriations Committee stripped of the $8 million Mr. Glendening set aside for textbook aid.
"It looks very likely stacked so they'll get $5 million out," said Delegate Frank S. Turner, Howard County Democrat.
Mr. Turner, like many other opponents of the measure, objects to spending money on private schools at a time when, they argue, public schools and other social needs are still underfunded.
But Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, may hold the trump card. The powerful Baltimore Democrat tried to add $5.2 million for private-school textbooks back into the budget bill after the education subcommittee deleted it. He narrowly failed.
House members say Mr. Rawlings' unannounced appointments to the conference committee include enough private-aid supporters to enable him to get his wish after all.
"I'm hopeful that the House conference committee will fight hard to reflect the will of the House, the majority of whom are opposed to taking money from public schools," said Delegate Cheryl C. Kagan, Montgomery County Democrat, who is worried the House position could be "disenfranchised" by delegates tempted to accede to the $5 million Senate proposal.
The Maryland State Teachers Association (MSTA) contends public schools are inadequately funded and lobbied against Mr. Glendening's efforts to direct taxpayer funds to private schools.
"We are disappointed that … once again, they are diverting millions to private schools for which they have no constitutional mandate," said MSTA spokeswoman Amy Maloney. "We expect a very vigorous floor fight."
Pushing hard for the aid is a coalition of Catholic, Orthodox Jewish and other private schools.
"The reduction from $8 million to $5 million seems eminently reasonable," said Richard J. Dowling, lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Mr. Dowling said he believes more schools may apply for the aid if it is approved this year, given extra time to learn about how it works.
Some conservative Christian schools have balked, fearing strings would be attached.
The Department of Education would own the books and loan them to the schools. Schools that won the grants are using them to discount students' tuition.

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