- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland is increasing public school funding by hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told members of a new education commission yesterday that their duty is to ensure the state is spending the money wisely.

“Debate often doesn’t focus on the needs of children,” the governor said at the first meeting of his Commission on Quality Education.

He asked the commission — which is divided into four subcommittees — to examine a wide range of issues such as accountability and merit-based pay for teachers, the length of the school day and the school year, school choice for parents, effectiveness of pre-kindergarten programs, full-day kindergarten, and best uses of federal Head Start dollars.

One of the subcommitteesalso will examine instructional methods used in other states and other countries, especially in math and science, to find programs that might work in Maryland.

“I’m looking to this group to develop an agenda for modern Maryland,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

The governor said public schools in Maryland have made substantial progress in recent years. Scores on state tests improved in all school districts last year, and SAT scores for Maryland students were the best in the region, he said. Maryland students lead the nation in taking advanced-placement courses, Mr. Ehrlich said.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who will head the commission, told commission members that “we need to build on those strengths.”

“We also need to recognize our weaknesses and tackle them head-on,” he said.

The commission includes two teachers who are members of the Maryland State Teachers Association, but does not include any direct representatives of the union.

Patricia Foerster, president of the MSTA, said the governor “missed an opportunity to tap an absolutely vast body of expertise embodied in the MSTA and the boards of education and the PTAs.”

But she said the goals of the study are laudable and that “the MSTA stands ready to lend our expertise on any of these issues.”

Mr. Ehrlich asked the commission to report back to him in time to prepare legislation for the 2006 General Assembly session.

The governor renewed his commitment to provide full funding for the law passed two years ago that will increase state aid by $1.3 billion over six years. Education policy has too often revolved around “money this, money that, money, money, money,” the governor said.

“What about how those dollars are being spent?” he asked. “What can we do to improve how we spend tax dollars in this state?”

The 30-member commission is made up of a mix of business leaders, legislators, college officials and local elected officials. It includes two teachers and three school principals.

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