- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

One of the top priorities for Montgomery County politicians during the current session of the Maryland General Assembly will be undoing a state commission's controversial proposal to reduce "inequities" in public education funding. The panel, appointed two years ago by Gov. Parris Glendening, was chaired by Alvin Thornton, a former Prince George's County school board chairman, who says extra dough is necessary to "wealth equalize" education spending in the state. This is progressive-speak for having Annapolis send a greater share of money to less-affluent jurisdictions like Baltimore or Prince George's County, and less to wealthier jurisdictions like Montgomery County.

Mr. Thornton, a veteran liberal activist, is not above hinting that taxpayers could face lawsuits if they don't pony up additional funds for the public school system in Baltimore and other jurisdictions. "I believe that we not only have a political issue here, we have a potentially legal issue," he said. "Once we create standards, the law says that we must fund that performance expectation."

The remarkable thing is what is absent from this debate. None of the squabbling liberal bureaucrats and politicians who dominate the state whether in Rockville, Annapolis, Upper Marlboro or Baltimore are debating promising avenues for reform like charter schools or private school choice. The only issue here seems to be how much additional tax money should be thrown at the existing public school systems in various parts of the state. Montgomery County officials like County Executive Doug Duncan and Superintendent Jerry Weast want the state to spend $165 million over and above the $1.1 billion proposed by the Thornton panel over the next five years.

Some Montgomery County politicians concede that at least part of the problem lies with rabble-rousers who portray anyone unwilling to throw millions of additional bucks at public schools as "anti-education." In March, for example, when Mr. Duncan had the temerity to propose increasing education spending only 7.5 percent, he came under fire for his unwillingness to spend more. "If you are looking purely through a political lens, it's never smart to be perceived as anti-education," acknowledged county Councilman Steve Silverman, like Mr. Duncan, a Democrat. "The problem is that only in the Washington area would a 7.5 percent increase be considered a cut. I have sympathy for the choices Doug had to make, even if I don't agree with him."

Of course, Montgomery County politicians would have a great deal more credibility in making their case if it weren't for some of the ridiculous ways they squander money. Until the the policy was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, county school officials, harkening back to the days of Jim Crow, were denying children admission to the school of their choice on the basis of race. (Montgomery County officials sought to justify the policy as necessary to fight something called "racial isolation" apparently the lack of a "correct" racial mix throughout the school system.)

Last month, The Washington Post received an array of letters objecting to an "advanced literature program" for seventh graders. A typical reaction came from a teacher, who requested anonymity, expressing her distaste for a curriculum that included a one-sided book suggesting that the United States was wrong to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and expressing outrage that the stories of American soldiers who fought the Japanese including her father were not included.

Other recent fiascos included a high school internship program where students worked for a group that lobbies for marijuana legalization and the waste of $80,000 to remove Indian mascot symbols at Poolesville High School. Until Montgomery County educrats make greater use of common sense in spending money, they'll have serious credibility problems when they demand more from Annapolis.

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