ACLU of Maryland Urges State Officials to Consider Public School Students in Debate Over "Trigger" Clause in Education Funding Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
July 9, 2003 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE, MD-A current debate among state officials over a clause in a law meant to activate or “”trigger”” new statewide education funding for public schools in the state, should not prevent that funding from moving forward, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said today.

The Bridge to Excellence Act was signed into law last year and is meant to increase statewide education funding by $1.1 billion over five years. Passage of the law was precipitated by an ACLU of Maryland lawsuit and the recommendations of the state-appointed Thornton Commission on Education Finance, Equity and Excellence.

“”While the heads of government debate the constitutionality of a clause in the original bill, what they most need to attend to is Maryland’s constitutional requirement that each child receive an adequate education,”” said Susan Goering, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. “”Such a requirement is the single, affirmative directive in our constitution. The legislature and Governor acted wisely in approving this legislation, now they need to unite to determine the funding sources for this historic formula.””

At issue is a memo leaked yesterday by the state Attorney General’s office suggesting that the law’s “”trigger”” clause, which requires passage of a joint resolution in the next legislative session, may be unconstitutional.

“”The upshot of this debate is that if the ‘trigger’ resolution is found to be unconstitutional, the full funding of the Thornton legislation must proceed anyway,”” said Bebe Verdery, Education Reform Director of the ACLU of Maryland.

The Attorney General’s memo said that the bill allows an unconstitutional section to be removed and the rest of the statute to remain intact, she noted.

The memo also focused on whether full Thornton funding would proceed if the joint resolution provision were struck down or whether, alternately, funding would be slashed back to only a five percent increase.

“”The requirement for a joint resolution and the option to scale back to the five percent increase are in the same section of the bill,”” said Verdery. “”If the ‘trigger’ resolution is removed, so is the option for partial funding. But that’s not what some political leaders seem to have in mind.””

Under the trigger provision, if the General Assembly votes in its joint resolution that full funding is not within the state’s fiscal capacity, then the law allows scaled-back funding to go into effect.

“”If the Governor presents his budget without full funding in next January, then it’s likely that we would take the issue to court,”” Verdery said.

The ACLU of Maryland filed Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education in 1994, charging that the state was not providing an adequate education to Baltimore City schoolchildren as guaranteed in the Maryland State Constitution. Since reaching a settlement with the state in 1996, more than $300 million in extra funding has flowed to Baltimore City schools. Extra funding and significant administrative reforms has led to increases in test scores across the city and created a more effective and responsive system of educating Baltimore schoolchildren.

Relying on the expertise of Dr. John Augenblick, the Thornton Commission determined a new funding formula based on the “”gap”” of how far each county was from necessary funding to provide an adequate education to its children.

For more information on the Bradford settlement, go to /studentsrights/gen/12761prs20020506.html

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