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First Click, Maryland: The cost of education

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Thursday, March 18, 2010:

The Agenda

Me in dots.jpgIt's become a common lament this session among lobbyists and journalists and other Annapolis insiders: not much is happening.

Perhaps, but in case anyone missed it, two bills with major implications for Maryland education policy cleared the Senate on Wednesday without much fanfare.

One would gradually raise the state's dropout age from 16 to 18. The other would create a new tax credit with the hope of stemming the tide of Catholic school closures. Debate over both measures has been heavily colored by concerns over the state's fiscal situation. Neither has made it through the House.

Thumbnail image for Maryland Senate.jpgThe Senate voted 31 to 16 for the dropout measure after little debate Wednesday. Passage was kind of anticlimactic. In floor sessions in recent days, tempers had flared over the bill, sponsored by Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore).

No one objected to the policy objective, at least not publicly. Keeping kids in school is one of those notions that's hard to argue against. But there was plenty of second-guessing about whether Maryland can afford it right now.

"Ladies and gentleman, there's only so much money to go around," Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset) said during an impassioned speech Monday night in which he outlined budget tradeoffs.

An amendment sponsored by Stoltzfus cleared the chamber by the slimmest of margins -- 23 to 22 -- making the higher age requirement "null and void" if there is not additional money inserted into the budget to cover the estimated cost of requiring students to stay in school longer.

Pugh and other bill supporters vigorously fought the change.

Some of the same senators questioned the wisdom of a measure that advanced through the chamber on roughly the same timetable in recent weeks. That bill, passed 30 to 17 on Wednesday, would offer a tax credit to businesses that donate money for scholarships benefiting private schools.

The measure has passed the Senate before but stalled in the House. This year, however, the bill has the backing of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and has gained momentum with the recent announcement of numerous Catholic school closures.

Edwin F. O'Brien, the 15th archbishop of Baltimore, appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday to make the case for the bill, which is modeled after programs in other states, including Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida.

As drafted, the bill does not require the governor to spend any money on the program in Maryland. But detractors have seized on estimates by fiscal analysts saying the tax credit could cost Maryland $50 million a year based on experiences of other states.

At a time when Maryland can't afford to make kids stay in public school, those detractors have asked, should lawmakers be doling out millions to keep kids in private schools?

That's one interesting debate that will play out in the remaining days of the session.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

In Prince George's, apartment mogul bolsters Baker slate
Thumbnail image for Rushern Baker.jpg"The vast bulk of a large sum transferred to the campaign of Prince George's County executive candidate Rushern L. Baker III came from a single $200,000 loan connected to a local apartment complex mogul, Baker said Wednesday," writes The Post's Jon Mummolo. "Baker, who officially began his third bid for the county's top post Wednesday, has for weeks been facing media inquiries on his campaign's finances and pressure from a rival candidate to release the names of donors to a slate called County 1 Now."

O'Malley says gay marriage opinion 'sound advice'
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for O'Malley recent mug.jpg"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is supporting a controversial recent gay marriage opinion issued by Attorney General Doug Gansler," the Associated Press reports. "O'Malley told WTOP's 'Ask the Governor' program Wednesday that Gansler gave 'sound advice' last month when he said state agencies must now recognize out-of-state gay marriages until the legislature or courts decide otherwise. O'Malley said he believes Gansler's opinion is not only 'the right legal advice' but also 'it's the only practical way to go.' "

House advances sex offender measures
"The Maryland House of Delegates gave early approval Wednesday to two major changes to sex offender laws, eliminating good-time prison credits for the most violent and repeat predators and establishing lifetime supervision for them," writes The Sun's Julie Bykowicz. "Republican lawmakers had pushed to expand several of the provisions, including ones that would force judges to bar all high-level sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools and day care centers and require them to have global-positioning devices. Those efforts were defeated after Democratic leaders argued that they would be too costly and could concentrate offenders in rural areas."

New Baltimore mayor paring budget
Rawlings-Blake.jpg"Three fire companies would be permanently closed, several recreation centers shuttered and the Police Department's helicopter grounded under Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's proposals to close the city's $121 million budget gap," writes The Baltimore Sun's Julie Scharper. "Although the mayor does not plan to formally unveil her preliminary spending plan until next week, she has briefed City Council members about the proposed trims as well as a package of fees that could generate as much as $57 million in revenue -- and ease some of the deep service cuts. Rawlings-Blake's plan also would eliminate bulk trash pickup, so residents would need to make their own arrangements to haul large items to the dump. The small trucks that vacuum trash from commercial streets would also halt operation."

Notable Commentary

'A dismal track record'
In The Baltimore Sun, House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) and House Minority Whip Christopher B Shank (R-Washington) offer their take on the governor's budget practices:
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for O'Donnell mug.jpgShank.jpg"Maryland's budget deficit is a long-term problem that requires a long-term solution. Over the past three years, the O'Malley/Brown administration has made little to no progress in addressing the state's budget deficit. Increased spending, a failed slots bill, the largest tax increase in our state's history and federal bailouts make for a dismal track record."

'Unparalleled product improvement'
In The Washington Post, the editorial board makes the case for keeping the superintendent:
Weast mug.jpg"IMAGINE a corporation with a chief executive officer whose vision and management skills resulted in unparalleled product improvement. Imagine the company about to face some of its biggest challenges. No one would think it a good idea to change leadership. Yet, that is what is about to happen to the Montgomery County school system if officials don't figure out a way to hang on to Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast."


Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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By John Wagner  |  March 18, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: Senate launches debate on legalizing card games


So is Baker so unpopular among the wealthy class in PG that he has to rely on a Republican, Virginia, billionare for the biggest hunk of his campaign money? I thought PG was the wealthiest, majortity black county in the country? Could this be inaccurate or what?

Posted by: VikingRider | March 18, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

The Catholic Church and their schools deserve their declining enrollment and accompanying loss of revenue. we should not be bailing them out. They need to stop their hatefilled anti-gay agenda against DC and its progression to allow gay marriage. Catholic schools are failing for a reason. I do not want my taxes propping up creation "science" and bigotry.

Posted by: MarilynManson | March 18, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

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