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As Long as We Remember...

September 6, 2006

An Apple for The Governor

Kevin E. Dayhoff

It certainly appears that improving education in Maryland is developing into one of the main election issues for Marylanders this fall.

In light that Democrats have been essentially running the school systems in the state, and in particular in Baltimore City, for at least the last four decades, one wonders how this suddenly popped-up on the class syllabus. Is this a tacit admission that they've received a failing grade for their efforts in the past and now want a remedial class in revisionist history?

Perhaps the Dems feel that the best defense is a good offense in an attempt to diffuse the fact that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., inherited a several billion dollar budget deficit from the previous Democrat administration and - never-the-less - still made record budget outlays for K-12 education, school construction and higher education.

This includes fully funding the $1.3 billion Thornton school aid "Bridge to Excellence Act" - an unfunded, incomplete homework assignment from the previous administration.

For extra credit, Governor Ehrlich has nearly doubled need-based aid for college students. By the beginning of the 2005 session of the Maryland General Assembly, he had increased state funding for higher education by $67 million, and increased need-based aid $27 million.

The governor increased funding for K-12 by a record $1.4 billion - a 43% increase above fiscal year 2003. Since then school funding by the City of Baltimore was increased by $541,000 - one-third of one percent.

Since Governor Ehrlich took office, teacher salaries have increased by an average of 12 percent across Maryland. And just this year he signed into law a measure to phase-in a raise for teacher pensions from 42 percent of current wages to 54 percent.

Recently the Capital Debt Affordability Committee approved Governor Ehrlich's plan to increase school construction funding from $750 million to $1.25 billion for fiscal years 2008 through 2012 - a 66 percent increase. His fiscal year 2007 budget includes a record $338 million for school construction. Since he was elected he has invested $845 million on modernizing public schools in Maryland, which includes building 45 new schools and renovating 52 schools.

Last March, the bipartisan Maryland State Department of Education wanted to takeover 11 schools in Baltimore City. Federal and state laws require - and the public demands - the Department of Education to act when a local school system persistently fails its students. State Superintendent Dr. Nancy Grasmick, who has been superintendent for 15 years with three governors, supported the improvement plan.

Governor Ehrlich's opponents have been quick to point out that Baltimore "high school graduation rates increased last year from 58.99 percent to 60.63 percent." And this is a good thing? According to Education Week, this is the second lowest graduation rate of a major city in the country.

Whatever. The Democrat-controlled legislature ignored the law and blocked the improvement plan - crassly playing politics with Baltimore children's education in the final act of the Kabuki situational morals opera that was previously known as the Maryland General Assembly.

Actually, what the legislature has really evolved into is a campaign coalition with Baltimore's Sun to elect a liberal Democrat governor in 2006. A funny thing happened on the way, however, as the plot turned into a Greek tragedy - an exercise in monopolistic excess of petty kindergarten proportions; and now our legislature is the laughing stock of the nation.

Did the Maryland General Assembly thwart the takeover because they had a new plan of approach, some innovative and revolutionary method of turning this Titanic around?

Nope. They needed more time.

"More time for what?" asks a political TV ad that is resonating throughout the state.

Apparently they need more time to find yet another Baltimore school system CEO. The leadership positions for both the school system and the police department are revolving doors. During the current Baltimore City administration, the school system has gone through four CEO's.

And most of us have lost track of the number of police commissioners. It has gotten so bad; the nameplate is scotch-taped on the door.

Then there is the matter that under the current city administration, the Baltimore public schools misplaced at least $58 million. Now, how in the world do you lose $58 million? Do folks really expect Marylanders to buy the explanation that the dog ate it - and the homework?

The Washington Post said in April that education "has never been a priority for (the mayor of Baltimore.) He has ignored the schools, and we're seeing the results of that today."

Since the Democrat contender for the statehouse took over the reins of Baltimore City, he has had his hands full trying to get the once proud City of Baltimore turned around. Of course, number one on the radar screen was crime reduction, for which he has had mixed results.

To be sure, it would appear that the mayor's election campaign plan hatched in 2002 was to emphasize accomplishments in reducing crime. The dog ate the memo to the criminals on that one, too. The Morgan Quitno Press, which publishes the annual rankings based on FBI crime data, says Baltimore "was ranked the second most dangerous big city in the United States this year, up from No. 3 last year," according to The Washington Times.

Then, it appeared that the mayor's focus was going to be the environment and the governor flushed those chances down the drain with the best environmental initiatives in decades.

Now it seems the mayor's campaign has graduated to a focus on education and once again the governor has passed that test with flying colors and qualified for advanced placement (for another four years of graduate work.)

The governor has done this in spite of the legislature eating his homework every chance it got. And Baltimore's Sun has used the wrong score sheet for every test.

More than 90,000 school children in Maryland enjoy the fruits of the governor's efforts. And for that, the governor deserves an apple.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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