Lawmakers Promise Funding – Now and in the Future – At ‘March for Our Schools’

Teachers, led by Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost (waving a red cow bell in her left hand) march toward the State House earlier this year. The rally drew about 8,500 people. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

The sea of red shirts stretched down the boulevard leading to Maryland’s State House, eventually packed in to stretch from the corner of the tax collector’s office and across the bridge over College Creek.

Maryland teachers, students and parents – an estimated 8,500 of them – descended on Annapolis for the “March for Our Schools” on Monday night, the same evening the House of Delegates got a first look at a 2020 budget proposal that includes more than $7 billion for public education.

House Appropriations Chair Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said it’s the largest allocation for public education in state history. On the floor of the House of Delegates, she called it a “bill for the children.”

McIntosh also addressed the throngs outside the State House. She said the House’s $320 million down-payment for recommendations of the Kirwan Commission was “a small step, but a step forward.”

McIntosh, who was a city teacher before she came to Annapolis – “Frankly, that’s where I left my heart,” she said – promised the crowd that this year’s budget would not be the last that’s favorable to education.

“We are not going to stop,” she said. “We are not going to stop for one moment until in Maryland, we say this: the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students is forever erased.”

The work of the Kirwan Commission will continue over the next year to rewrite state funding formulas and identify revenue sources for a public education expansion that is expected to cost an additional $3.8 billion a year after a 10-year phase-in.

Long-time education advocate and current Prince George’s County Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton, who led the state’s last effort to equalize education spending in the state 17 years ago, had a message for lawmakers he knows well: “Do the right thing and we’ll have your back. Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Make the tough decisions on behalf of our babies and we’ll have your back.”

The rally comes as the ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund moved last week to reopen Bradford vs. Maryland State Board of Education, a 1994 case that ended in a consent decree and prompted the Thornton Commission’s rewrite of state funding formulas in 2002. But since The Great Recession, the state adjusted the formula, and the civil rights groups say Baltimore City schools have been deprived of more than $2 billion in funding.

“We’re not asking for anything that does not belong to us. These are our taxes,” Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) said. “We pay taxes, we want our taxes to go to our schools, to go for our children, to go to our future, to make Maryland great.”

She was joined by other local leaders who said they were committed to funding their counties’ shares of expanded education funding.

Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) said the state cannot continue to “pretend” that education is funded adequately when counties have to raise property taxes to meet school systems’ needs.

There are ways to raise revenue statewide that need to be seriously considered, Elrich said. “It’s not fair that you get different educations in different parts of the state depending on what county you live in,” said Elrich, who worked 17 years as a 4th and 5th grade teacher. “It’s time to take care of our kids. It shouldn’t matter the color of your skin or your ZIP code how your education turns out.”

But with expanded school funding on the horizon and a commitment of lawmakers to fund the increases, the rally was met dubiously by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D). On Friday, the Senate leader, who supports the goals of the Kirwan Commission, said to the Senate: “We don’t respond well to threats,” Miller said. “…We’re not going to responding to lawsuits or mass rallies. We’re going to be responding to what we think is right.”

After the rally Monday night, Miller told his colleagues that county and state leaders need to work together to fully fund the Kirwan recommendations, because the state can’t do it all.

“It’s got to be a partnership,” he said.

Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D), who also started his career as a teacher, responded to skepticism about the goals of the march. “It’s not a threat. It’s a promise,” he said. “It’s a promise we’ve made to each other and to our children.”

About 200 buses carried the crowds into Annapolis from counties across the state. They rang cowbells and joined in chants of “Fund our schools!” and carried signs that read “The time is now” and “Our kids can’t wait.”

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) joked with the crowd that he hoped the bridge could handle the stress. He said there was clear support for the crowd’s demands in the state.

“We had an election in November,” Pittman said. “And education won. By a lot.”

“…The governor better be listening because we’re going to get our money,” he added.

‘Tell them they should be ashamed’

Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s office said he “agrees wholeheartedly that Maryland teachers and students deserve well-funded schools,” noting that the governor advocated for passage of an education funding lockbox referendum that Democrats sent to the ballot in November, which will increase public education spending by $4.4 billion over the next decade.

“The governor will continue to advocate for innovative educational strategies and greater accountability in our schools to ensure that funding goes where it belongs – in the classroom with teachers and students,” spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill said.

On Facebook Monday night, Hogan criticized the proposed House of Delegates budget, noting his educational priorities that were left out of funding, including establishment of the Office of Education Accountability and Education Investigator General, expanding charter schools and maintaining the Safe Schools Maryland Tip Line, which was launched late last year. He encouraged supporters to call lawmakers “and tell them they should be ashamed.”

Hogan is scheduled to visit a rally for Nonpublic School Advocacy Day on Tuesday morning.

A hearing on House Bill 1413, which would implement the first of the recommendations for the Kirwan Commission is scheduled for Wednesday in the House Ways and Means Committee. A Senate committee held a hearing on its version of the bill last week but has not yet acted.

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