- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

ANNAPOLIS School officials in Frederick County will be able to maintain class sizes and give teachers a small pay increase thanks to the first installment of the $1.3 billion school aid bill passed by the legislature in April.
The additional funds will pay for more teachers in Anne Arundel County, more kindergartens in Montgomery County and academic coaches to help teachers work with students in Baltimore schools.
The first step is modest, about $74.7 million to help educate an estimated 850,000 students expected to attend almost 1,400 public schools this year. But with the economy in decline and county officials trying to hold the line on spending, school administrators say even a limited increase in state aid is important.
Poorer school systems generally will receive proportionally more money per student than schools in wealthier counties.
The largest amounts this year are $22.5 million for Prince George's County and $18.7 million for Baltimore.
But Montgomery County, one of the state's wealthiest jurisdictions, will receive $7.6 million, the third largest amount this year.
Marshall Spatz, director of management, budget and planning for the school system, said the additional funds will help Montgomery county achieve some of its top priorities, including expanding all-day kindergarten to nine additional schools and reducing class size in five more elementary schools.
The county also will spend some of the money on keeping schools cleaner, providing more support for students who speak English as a second language and supporting programs for special-education students.
"It seems like not very much money. It's only half of 1 percent of our budget," Mr. Spatz said. "However, it's those additional small amounts that will make all the difference in providing services."
"It's survival money," said Marita Loose, communications director for Frederick County public schools.
School officials asked Frederick County for an additional $17.5 million for the 2002-03 school year to help accommodate the steady growth in school population and received $8.8 million.
"We are essentially providing no new programs this year because of limited funding," Miss Loose said. But she said the unexpected $1.9 million the system will receive as result of the state school aid program "is going to allow us to at least maintain class size" and to pay for the small increase in teacher salaries.
School systems planned to use the additional state aid in a variety of ways, often to pay for programs that were cut from their proposed budgets because they did not receive all the money they wanted from county governments.
The new school aid program is the result of a two-year study by the Thornton Commission, created to improve education generally in Maryland and to close the gap in spending between poor and wealthy counties.
The program starts slowly with just $74.7 million this year, but will reach $1.3 billion by the 2007-08 school year if the governor and legislature can find money to pay for it.
Frederick County's share would increase from $1.9 million to $42.6 million; Wicomico County's from $1.4 million to $37.7 million; Baltimore city's from $18.7 million to $258.5 million.
Sen. Robert Neall, Anne Arundel Democrat, a member of the Thornton Commission and a driving force in getting the bill through the General Assembly in April, said the $1.3 billion can help bring about a renaissance in public schools.
"If we are able to commit the money over the next five years to get to the levels of expenditures recommended, we will have reached not just educational equity but educational adequacy and, I think, will be well on the way to educational excellence," he said.

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