- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

ANNAPOLIS A House subcommittee yesterday cut $8 million in state aid Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants committed to private and parochial schools to help them buy textbooks.

Teacher and parent groups who argued that the move would drain resources from public schools were jubilant, but acknowledged it was just the first victory in their fight to defeat the funding permanently.

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"What we hope," said Wanda Hurt, legislative vice president of the Maryland Parent Teacher Association, "is to remove it totally from the budget" to reduce chances of it coming back each year.

Advocates of private-school aid remain "cautiously optimistic" that the cut will be overturned when the full House Appropriations Committee votes, which could happen as early as Friday, or in the Senate or a conference committee.

Parochial and private schools save the state more than $900 million a year in direct aid and alleviate overcrowding, said Eugene T. Naughton, associate director for education of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

"What we are asking for is a drop in the bucket," Mr. Naughton said.

Parents of parochial-school students, particularly those affiliated with Catholic, evangelical Christian and Orthodox Jewish groups, have lobbied vigorously for such help.

This may not be the last time they work the issue. Mr. Glendening has said he plans to push textbook aid through next year, the last of his administration, and it's too early to say whether he will change his mind, spokesman Mike Morrill said.

"He believes it is appropriate for it to increase each year," Mr. Morrill said. "He thinks it's part of our overall plan to improve education in Maryland for every student."

Mrs. Hurt said she cannot support sending public dollars to private schools as long as students in public schools are using outdated textbooks. As an example, she cited some history books used in Anne Arundel County last year that listed Gerald Ford as the current U.S. president. Mr. Ford served from 1974 to 1977.

In place of the $8 million allocation, the House Appropriations education subcommittee inserted language asking the state superintendent of education to solicit advice from school superintendents statewide to form buyers' groups that could help private schools save by purchasing textbooks in volume with public schools.

But supporters and opponents of textbook aid said they were uncertain about net benefits of that proposal, similarly offered in a House bill sponsored by Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, Baltimore County Democrat.

Patricia A. Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said she is concerned such a group could effectively take textbook selection decisions from educators.

Last year, Mr. Glendening's proposal for $6 million in private-school textbook aid narrowly won approval.

Mr. Glendening at the time declined to say whether he would include private-school aid in his next budget, but submitting an item once generates expectations that it will continue.

Still, some legislators who had backed the item said they thought the move was for only one year.

Many said a slowing economy and unmet needs in public schools and social services give them additional reason to be cautious.

Some legislators are unhappy that schools without needy students and preschool centers account for more than a third of schools slated to share almost $5 million in state assistance.

In fact, more than 35 percent, or 91 of 257 schools allotted aid, have no "needy" students that is, none eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Mr. Glendening has said he regards votes on private-school aid as a "matter of conscience" and won't hold opposition against legislators.

All state offices are up for election in 2002, and legislators know that groups promoting school aid publish guides listing how they vote on such issues.

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