Educators, parents, business leaders and others were told to gear up for a tough fight for public school funding and coached on how to do so during an education conference yesterday at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
"Beginning next week, the governor is going to announce significant cuts. Money for education is going to be one of the areas for cuts," Delegate James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George's, said during the session, sponsored by the Metropolitan Education Coalition and the university.
Delegate Rosapepe told an audience of about 150 not to fight just to maintain the status quo. Although the state's financial condition is dire, he said, both politicians and public are talking about education reform.
"I urge you to reject the temptation of just trying to hold on to what you have," he said. "In the situation we're in today, I don't know what's going to happen but seize the opportunity."
The conference, intended to focus on equitable funding for the ++ state's school systems, was attended by representatives of 19 of the state's 23 counties plus Baltimore City.
Workshops were about influencing the legislative process, reaching out to build public support and understanding school funding issues. Suggestions included talking to legislators, starting petition drives and writing letters to newspapers.
John Roth of St. Mary's County, who is president of the County Council PTA Associations umbrella group, said he was there to learn how to lobby for more equitable funding.
The per pupil expenditure in St. Mary's County is about $4,800 -- $600 less than the median amount spent in school systems in the state, he said. "It means that a lot of opportunities are not available to our students, and that is what education is about -- opportunities," said Mr. Roth, who has two children in elementary school.
Gita Lefstein, a parent of two children in Baltimore schools who also teaches in the system, said she felt the city also is inadequately funded.
"We don't have nearly the resources we should have," Mrs. Lefstein said. "We end up failing our children." She said she sees far too many children "being pushed into special education" when they should not be there.
George J. Nolfi, an education and government consultant from Montgomery County, said that even in the state's wealthiest county, funding public education is becoming an issue. "There has been a growing anti-school funding sentiment," Mr. Nolfi said.
Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, encouraged the group to seek "alternative means" for financing education.
"The revenue deficit in the state is real," she said. "It is going to be imperative for groups like this to see what the cuts will mean to education. The magnitude will be significant."
Tru Ginsburg, president of the sponsoring coalition, admitted that increased funding for public education will be difficult to obtain.
"There is absolutely no question that it is going to be tough," Ms. Ginsburg said. "But we can do it. We can make a difference."