- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

ANNAPOLIS A massive school-aid bill that includes a 34-cent increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes was among 130 new laws signed yesterday by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Education was the focus of the third bill-signing ceremony since the legislative session ended April 8. Mr. Glendening also signed bills that will expand bargaining rights for Maryland teachers and replace Prince George's County's elected school board with one appointed by the governor and County Executive Wayne K. Curry.
State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said the $1.3 billion aid bill will benefit students with the greatest needs children growing up in poverty, children for whom English is a second language and children with special educational needs.
"These children comprise the achievement gap in the state of Maryland," Mrs. Grasmick said.
All students will benefit from the big increase in state school funding, but the most help will go to those who need it most, she said.
The new aid plan begins with a modest boost in funding for public schools of about $70 million for the 2002-2003 school year, in addition to the $160 million in normal growth in school aid.
By the end of the sixth year, schools will be getting an extra $1.3 billion.
The increase in the cigarette tax will boost the rate from 66 cents to $1 a pack. That will bring in more than $100 million in new revenues, almost enough to pay the cost of the higher aid the first two years.
Lawmakers who opposed passage of the law said it will inevitably lead to tax increases in subsequent years when its costs will far outstrip the additional tobacco revenues.
The collective-bargaining bill for teachers was the latest in a series of Glendening proposals to give public employees more rights to bargain on salaries, benefits and working conditions.
It repeals a law prohibiting school boards from bargaining with teachers on issues such as classroom safety, assignments of teachers and teacher training. School officials will still have the authority to refuse to put those issues on the bargaining table.
The law abolishing the school board resulted from a long-running feud between a majority of the members of the Prince George's County board and county Superintendent Iris T. Metts.
The board appointed by Mr. Glendening and Mr. Curry will serve for four years and then give way to another elected board.
The legislation also will bring the county school system an additional $20 million in annual funding by requiring the County Council to impose a phone tax of 5 percent or more. The county stands to gain about $28 million more from the state as a result of the Thornton Commission, which examined the present structure of public school funding across the state.
Mr. Glendening said that students in Prince George's schools have made substantial gains on national achievement tests the past two years, and that with the new school board and the additional aid, "we'll build on that."


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