The Sun on O’Malley on Thornton

Forgive me for the extended quote:

It’s easy to sympathize with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s dilemma. He has to close a $1.7 billion budget gap and is looking for savings in a sector – education – that accounts for a hefty share of state spending. He also promised during last year’s gubernatorial campaign to help school districts with higher costs of living by adding funding called for as a supplement to the Thornton law.

But he’s adding with one hand while taking away with another.

Under Thornton, Maryland has increased spending for K-12 education by nearly $2 billion in the last five years. But Mr. O’Malley was very critical of his predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., for not funding a geographic index that was supposed to give selected school districts, notably Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore, additional funding to compensate for increased education costs, such as helping teachers afford homes in the expensive jurisdictions where they work.

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Now Mr. O’Malley wants to phase in the high-cost index over three years, adding $38 million in fiscal year 2009 and topping out at $129 million by 2011. That money would be shared by about half of the state’s 24 school districts, but some needy districts that don’t qualify on the basis of costs, such as Allegany, Somerset and Worcester counties, would be left out. Granted, that’s the way the high-cost index is designed to work, but the harmful effects on less-affluent, rural districts at a time of painful belt-tightening might argue for deferring this phase-in even longer.

They are right, as far as they go. It is hard to credit to chance a program that rewards the only jurisdictions that voted for O’Malley in 2006 while punishing the solidly red counties that voted against him.

There is no denying that Thornton gives the governor a very effective, and plausibly deniable, tool for doing so but the idea that the high-cost index is worthy of saving while other parts are not simply requires the willing suspension of disbelief.

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