ANNAPOLIS - Calling it "the most important issue facing the state
of Maryland today," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Wednesday heatedly
defended his vow to veto legislation aimed at blocking the state
from intervening on behalf of 11 failing Baltimore City public
schools this year.
"This bill strikes at the heart of the education program of this
state," said Ehrlich, who had earlier described the bill as the
"triumph of politics and partisanship over the kids."
Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, meanwhile, warned
that the state could lose as much as $171 million in federal
education funds if the state is prevented from stepping in to
improve performance in the failing city schools.
"Education shouldn't be the subject of partisan politics,"
Ehrlich said. " . . . I respectfully request that the General
Assembly show leadership and sustain my veto."
Ehrlich's remarks came at the beginning of the bi-monthly meeting
of the Board of Public Works. A spokeswoman for Ehrlich said that he
had not vetoed the bill by late Wednesday.
For their part, Democratic leaders of the General Assembly were
just as aggressive in hurling the charge of Election Year politics
back at Ehrlich.
"That's just right-wing malarkey," said Senate President Thomas
V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince Georges and Calvert, who predicted
flatly that an Ehrlich veto would be overridden. "They're not going
to take money away from schools. They just want to keep Mayor
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is a leading candidate to
challenge Ehrlich's reelection bid.
The other leading candidate for the Democratic nomination,
Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, also jumped into the fray
Wednesday with a plague-on-both-their-houses statement of his own.
"This debate should be about how we are going to fix these
schools, not who is going to control them," Duncan said. "Neither
the governor nor the mayor has shown a commitment to education that
goes any further than the next election cycle."
The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Grasmick that stated that if the legislation is enacted, the
federal government has the authority to withhold education funding
under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Grasmick said that the funding loss could be up to $171 million.
The letter said that a state educational agency that "does not,
or cannot, carry out its statutory responsibilities" to reach
federally mandated performance standards "would be subject to
potential enforcement actions, including the withholding of funds."
Compounding the issue is an opinion from state Attorney General
J. Joseph Curran Jr., which is in direct opposition to the federal
Department of Education's stated position and of Grasmick's and
Ehrlich's interpretation of it.
Curran, a Democrat who is O'Malley's father-in-law, said that the
legislation "would not impair the state's ability to carry out its
responsibilities" under federal law or jeopardize federal funding.
Grasmick, who has come under heavy fire as the first state
superintendent in the country to attempt to intervene in local
school matters in such a way, spoke Wednesday in support of her
proposal, and also denounced the use of the word "takeover" to
"We do not operate the system and do not have the
authority to on a day-to-day basis," she said, other than it's
special education program.
She added that "any schools that are
chronically under-performing have to, under federal law, be placed
under corrective action."
Copyright © 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism
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