Public, Private Schools Can Unite to Save Money

 Editorial from The Sun

By Dan Morhaim

THE ISSUE OF public aid to private schools is divisive, pitting advocates of education against each other. But this fight can be avoided in a way that increases income for all Maryland schools while preserving the state's non-involvement in private education.

We can create such a win-win scenario by establishing an educational materials buying consortium that would include public and private schools. The consortium would buy textbooks and other items, ranging from paper and pencils to desks and lab equipment.

I will be introducing legislation in the forthcoming Maryland General Assembly session to create this consortium.

We are a small state. The textbook market in the United States is dominated by California, Texas and New York. When they choose a textbook, they define the choices for everyone else because text publishers cater to their biggest customers.

Even the Los Angeles Unified School District is significantly larger than all of Maryland's schools combined. We can only compete in this arena by joining together.

Maryland schools are not taking advantage of their volume discount buying power. Simply put, we don't purchase together. This means we are missing a real opportunity to save far more money than the $8 million currently under debate in the aid to private education proposal.

It's estimated that Maryland schools combined spend more than $240 million a year for books and school supplies. And while some school districts and counties pool their buying efforts internally, the gain is small because there is no statewide buying consortium to multiply the savings.

If a buying consortium could reduce the bill by even 10 percent, we would save $24 million a year. Most likely, we would save much more.

A buying consortium exists in state government, the little-known Maryland Assistive Technology Buying Council. This entity, operating with only two employees, buys high-tech equipment for handicapped students for both public and private schools.

In reviewing their price list, they save from 10 percent to 75 percent, amounting to millions of dollars for their participants. But so far, their activities have been limited to this special and relatively small area.

It's time to expand this model.

A buying consortium would work this way: It would be open to all public and private schools statewide and participation would be voluntary. There would be no effort to use it to direct curriculum. Periodically, it would coordinate purchasing to get the best prices possible. The more schools that participate, the more savings each could achieve.

Everyone understands the advantages of scheduled volume purchasing for discounts, and using this system is a better way to help our schools.

It's time to put our local interests and agendas aside and work together for the good of all children in Maryland's schools.

Dan K. Morhaim represents the 11th District in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Originally published Jan 9 2001