Keeping public money public Alliance: People for the American Way and the NAACP have joined forces to fight use of taxpayer funds for private school voucher plans.

The Education Beat

April 06, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

PEOPLE FOR the American Way, Norman Lear's organization known primarily for its campaigns against censorship, and the venerable National Association for the Advancement of Colored People forged an alliance at a West Baltimore church Thursday to fight those who would divert public money to private school voucher schemes.

The magnificent New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore was an ironic setting for this gathering of 250 activists, ministers, politicians and educators, some quite young and some veterans in the war to keep tax money out of religious schools.

From this very Christian place, the participants targeted what firebrand speaker the Rev. Timothy McDonald (a People For board member) called the "radical Christian right" and what NAACP President Kweisi Mfume identified as Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Other voucher proponents such as the Roman Catholic bishops and conservatives with no religious bent came in for less criticism.

"Aren't you glad God didn't make everybody to look like Pat Robertson?" McDonald asked to the laughter of a salt-and-pepper crowd.

Much of the day was taken up in workshops in which the participants got tips on how the Christian Coalition works and how to counter its campaigns.

For example, a Maryland State Teachers Association lobbyist warned the group to be on the alert for bills with titles like "Maryland School Resources Conservation Program," a failed church school tuition plan in last year's General Assembly.

Voucher experiments in Milwaukee and Cleveland were described and decried as potential stealers of public funds. (The Milwaukee program, the nation's largest and oldest, has been barred by the courts from allowing vouchers to be used in church schools.)

Other speakers said simply that city public schools are in trouble and need all the help they can get. "What is not happening from Martin Luther King's dream is that we're not getting the best for our children," said Rebecca Joseph, a sixth-grade teacher in Baltimore City who brought four of her students to the affair.

The People For/NAACP alliance seemed odd at first, like going to a wedding and wondering what the couple sees in each other. The NAACP crowd is older, blacker, steeped in traditional liberalism. The People For crowd is younger, more hip, more aware of politics inside the Beltway. But Carole Shields, a Baptist preacher's daughter who is president of the 300,000-member organization, closed the gap easily in a speech in which she told of living in a poverty area of Miami and sending her children to public schools where Spanish was the dominant language.

In a brief interview after her speech, Shields said she approached Mfume about forging the partnership after reading the former congressman's autobiography, "No Free Ride: From the Mean Streets to the Mainstream."

"He hesitated about one-half second," Shields said. "This is a natural partnership of two organizations long active in civil rights and with much the same agenda."

People For the American Way is raising money for the campaign, Shields said. The Calvert Institute, a conservative Baltimore think tank, intercepted and distributed to the media a letter from Shields asking a Baltimore foundation for $86,200, most of it for Thursday's event.

"Clearly the anti-choice crowd is gearing up for a well-funded fight," said Douglas P. Munro, the institute's executive officer. The report, "Maryland Public School Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity and Gender and Number of Schools" presents some interesting facts on this school year. Such as:

Number of male students in Maryland public schools: 418,895.

Number of female students in Maryland public schools: 399,688.

Number of ninth-graders in Baltimore City schools: 9,147.

Number of 12th-graders in Baltimore City schools: 4,180.

Number of white students in the 12th grade of Baltimore City schools: 417.

Number of Hispanic students in Montgomery County schools: 15,348.

Number of Hispanic students in Baltimore City schools: 456.

Number of Native American students in Baltimore County schools: 259.

Number of white students in Carroll County schools: 25,187.

Number of black students in Carroll County schools: 595.

Discarded gum causes traffic mishap for Grasmick

On her way to make a speech recently at a hotel near Baltimore Washington-International Airport, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick followed the dispersing circus crowd into the public garage where she parks next to her office on West Baltimore Street.

In her car a few minutes later, as she tried to apply her brakes behind a stopped truck, Grasmick found her foot stuck to the accelerator. The culprit: a wad of bubble gum apparently discarded in the garage.

Grasmick is fine. Her car was badly damaged. Her air bag worked. She went on to give the speech. The truck was treated and released.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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