- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pushed for increased school funding yesterday in his first State of the State address, while critics said the money would be thrown at school systems that either don’t need the additional funding or have failed state performance standards.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, proposed phasing in the “Geographic Cost of Education Index,” or GCEI, a previously optional funding program to mitigate the cost of attracting teachers to school districts.

However, critics say the move is a politically motivated attack on the school-funding program the General Assembly approved in 2002 to equitably distribute state money.

The program, known as the Thornton Commission report, revamped and increased public education spending $1.3 billion.

“I think the Thornton [legislation] with regard to [school funding] was to remove the political disparities across the state, and then we turn right around and insert a political disparity” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, a Southern Maryland Republican. “It seems antithetical to Thornton in the first place.”

The GCEI is an optional part of the Thornton legislation, designed to attract teachers to areas with higher costs of living or poorer performing schools.

“Some [school districts] have a greater cost because of the higher standard of living,” Mr. O’Malley said Tuesday. “It’s a complicated effort to ensure that every child has the same quality of education.”

The governor’s proposal would phase in $40 million in 2009, $80 million in 2010 and $137 million in 2011.

Yet the majority of funding — 72 percent — would go to only three school districts: Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

By the time the GCEI is fully funded in 2011, Baltimore City would receive $22.7 million, Montgomery County would receive $33.6 million, and Prince George’s County would receive $42.9 million.

In comparison, 10 other school districts would receive no increases and the closest contender to the top three districts, Anne Arundel County, would receive $9.3 million.

“Like all of their other state money, it’s really unrestricted,” said Mary Clapsaddle, assistant state superintendent for student services.

Mrs. Clapsaddle said the money is unrestricted in how school systems use it, but the state holds districts accountable through performance standards.

The only systems to fail those standards, based largely on the federal No Child Left Behind law, are also two of the top earners through GCEI: Prince George’s County and Baltimore City.

Prince George’s was forced to redraft its education plan in 2004 after 56 schools failed to meet state-performance standards.

However, Baltimore City fought a state takeover of 11 schools last year. The city’s public-school system had consistently failed to meet performance standards.

Mr. O’Malley, who was supported by state educators during his run for office, promised to pay for the GCEI in his first budget and said his proposal is necessary this session.

Members of the Thornton Commission said the GCEI is necessary to fulfill the requirements of the original Thornton legislation.

“The whole idea was to level the playing field for more expensive school districts,” said Montgomery County Council member Marilyn Praisner, a Democrat who served on the commission. “Without this implementation, you’re not meeting the expectations and obligations of Thornton.”

Republican lawmakers said some well-off districts, particularly Montgomery County, hardly need more state aid.

“It just flies in the face of logic of why you’d pass a bill for parity in public education,” said Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley, a Frederick Republican.

• Vaccine bill shelved

A bill that would have required middle school girls in Maryland to receive a new vaccine against the virus that can cause cervical cancer was withdrawn yesterday.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat, introduced the legislation, but now she is concerned that children already have a tough time getting all the required immunizations.

The bill would have mandated that young girls be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is transmitted sexually.

Miss Kelley said she probably will reintroduce the bill next session.

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