- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

On Monday, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation that replaces Prince George's County's elected school board with an appointed one and the superintendent with a CEO, and raises taxes to inject $20 million into a troubled system. Gov. Parris Glendening, who sat around and twiddled his thumbs while Prince George's children fell further and further behind, can't wait to affix his John Hancock. Besides the fact that this entire protracted episode over what to do about sagging Prince George's schools does not solve the real problem, it also gives new meaning to Maryland's motto of the "Free State."

Indeed, Maryland is doing to Prince George's what it did to Baltimore several years ago a state takeover of schools that, until this day, has produced questionable results despite the additional resources and tens of millions in extra tax dollars. It's as if state lawmakers had never heard of school choice, charter schools, vouchers or even education savings plans.

Here again, it seems as though Democrats can only see one road when it comes to education reform and the sign points to more money. Specifically, the legislation awaiting Mr. Glendening's signature forces the Prince George's County Council to create something called a telephone tax. But state lawmakers didn't stop there. Not only are they ordering county lawmakers to create a new tax, but they are mandating the rate of the tax (5 percent) and how the money will be allocated (all $20 million to schools). See what we mean by "Free State"?

To be sure, though, the need to reform Prince George's schools is hardly over. As a matter of fact, the legislation approved Monday (the last day of the 2002 legislative session), merely tinkers at how the hierarchy of the system functions and does not get at the heart of the matter what goes on in the classroom. For example, Superintendent Iris Metts, herself the focal point of the debate for more than a year, will now become CEO while the new board decides whether to extend her contract. Also, the appointed board is expected to stay around until 2006 yet another gubernatorial election year, and then county voters will again be permitted to elect another school board.

You won't get an argument here about the backhanded swipes that the legislature took at local control of schools. But look across the western boarder to the District of Columbia, which has been going through a near-mirror image of successive "reform" follies since the early 1990s with little, it is no secret, to show except lots and lots of dollar signs.


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