ANNAPOLIS – Despite torrential rains and frigid conditions, hundreds rallied outside the Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis last week protesting proposed state cuts to education.
Impassioned Baltimore educators, students, legislators and advocates – assembled by the Baltimore Education Coalition – showed up in yellow school buses and cars to swarm the capitol.
Balancing umbrellas and large laminated signs emblazoned with phrases such as “Our Children are Worth It” and “Save Our Schools,” the energetic crowd urged state legislators to “Keep the Promise.”
It was the education coalition’s second protest to preserve state funding. On Feb. 28, dozens of teachers, students, parents and school supporters took to Annapolis to testify against slashes to education.
In his state budget proposal, Gov. Martin O’Malley purports to keep education funding flat, but the even stream of cash won’t pay for increased student enrollment or chart adjustments for inflation. The result is $15 million worth of cuts to Baltimore City Schools and $94 million statewide. O’Malley’s spending plan limits funding growth to 1 percent a year and chops the state’s contribution to teacher’s retirement and pensions by $2 million.
For Baltimore City, the cuts equate to $250 less per pupil or a 10 percent reduction, according to Baltimore Education Coalition memos.
The cuts come as the state must close a $1.3 billion budget gap, and state officials say it promotes fiscal responsibility.
In an open letter to the public school community dated Feb. 15, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres A. Alonso said the aid reductions would foil his administration’s attempts to turn around city schools. “Any change in the state method for funding education that reduces our funding at a time of growing enrollment is a grave risk to the progress and momentum that is now underway in City Schools,” he wrote.
Alonso said the fresh round of cuts would surely lead to fewer teachers and increased class sizes, or fewer career, technical, art, music or after school programs. It could also halt efforts to restore deteriorating school structures.
Baltimore City Schools depends on the state for nearly 70 percent of their budget.
The spending proposal undercuts the Thornton funding formula, which in 2002 affixed a per-pupil benchmark for state aid. The legislature has flat lined school funding for the last three years without inflation adjustments, which city school officials assert led to $250 million less aid than mandated under Thornton.
What’s worse, enrollment is expected to increase by 800 students next year.
“I think that if budget cuts take place, we won’t be able to be educated as much as we are now,” Lashia Daniels, a Baltimore City College High student said in a video posted on the Baltimore City Public Schools website. “If we have more funding we will be able to have different after school programs and it will distract us from being out on the streets and making bad decisions and I think that is very important to keep our minds focused.”
Sharon Wheaton, a Baltimore pre-K teacher said she attended last week’s rally to evoke change. “We see a wrong and we want to make it right,” she said.
At the protest, several Baltimore City legislators asserted their opposition of the bill. Del. Curt Anderson said the Baltimore delegation – which he chairs – has “backed up” $800 million in education aid and “are going for more.”
Del. Keiffer Mitchell Jr. added that he has “a vested interest” in education funding because his two children attend Baltimore City Public Schools.
Baltimore Democrat Del. Jill P. Carter has said one of the reasons she attempted to scuttle the now-stalled same-sex marriage bill earlier this month was to push forward debate about school funding.
State legislators are scheduled to vote on the budget, with the first round of votes scheduled before March 19.