Prince Ge­orge’s school blues

County of­fi­cials have to find a way to get the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem the funds it needs.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

BUD­GET DE­LIB­ER­A­TIONS in Prince Ge­orge’s County have been un­usu­ally bit­ter this year. The pol­i­tics of rais­ing taxes sparked a vig­or­ous de­bate com­plete with an un­usual veto by the county ex­ec­u­tive, a slap-down from the coun­cil and, most re­cently, a novel in­ter­pre­ta­tion about the lim­its of power. What sadly has been given short shrift are the worth­while pro­grams that would greatly ben­e­fit public school stu­dents but can’t be im­ple­mented with­out more money.

County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern L. Baker III (D) un­der­took a valiant but likely doomed ef­fort to gen­er­ate sub­stan­tial new rev­enue for the chron­i­cally un­der­funded Prince Ge­orge’s school sys­tem. De­vis­ing a way to loosen the oner­ous grip of the county’s long-stand­ing prop­erty tax cap, Mr. Baker wanted $133 mil­lion for schools but was will­ing to set­tle for $65 mil­lion. The coun­cil re­buffed both ef­forts, vot­ing in­stead for a mod­est tax in­crease that would gen­er­ate $34 mil­lion for the schools while set­ting aside money for county parks. Fi­nal ac­tion is pending, and Mr. Baker has threat­ened ad­di­tional ve­toes as well as a pos­si­ble— and to our mind, ques­tion­able — legal chal­lenge of the coun­cil’s abil­ity to make cuts.

Prince Ge­orge’s res­i­dents can be for­given if they are con­fused. What they should fo­cus on, though, is the need to make good schools more of a pri­or­ity. We have never ar­gued that dol­lars nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into good ed­u­ca­tion re­sults, but 35 years of the tax cap has placed Prince Ge­orge’s schools and their stu­dents at a de­cided dis­ad­van­tage. Con­sider, for ex­am­ple, the find­ing of a study by the Thomas B. Ford­ham In­sti­tute that of all the dis­tricts in the D.C. metro area, Prince Ge­orge’s spends the fewest dol­lars per pupil. The dis­crep­ancy be­comes all the more pro­nounced when the county’s high pro­por­tion of stu­dents with spe­cial needs is taken into ac­count.

If the coun­cil prevails, the ad­di­tional $34 mil­lion would largely go to fund teacher pen­sion costs that pre­vi­ously had been picked up by the state. That means that pro­grams that would ex­pand preschool, hire lit­er­acy coaches, tar­get strug­gling stu­dents, strengthen cur­ricu­lum and im­prove com­puter skills would be put on hold. It also would mean no money to make teacher pay com­pet­i­tive, so Prince Ge­orge’s would con­tinue to be the train­ing ground for teach­ers who would move on to bet­ter-pay­ing dis­tricts once they gain ex­pe­ri­ence and be­come more ac­com­plished.

That sta­tus quo should not be ac­cept­able for a county that claims to have big am­bi­tions. The coun­cil and ex­ec­u­tive, in the time left be­fore the bud­get be­comes fi­nal, need to come to a rea­son­able meet­ing of the minds that gives the schools ad­di­tional re­sources aimed at boost­ing stu­dent achieve­ment.

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