Black caucus, other lawmakers call for Ehrlich to fully fund Thornton plan

January 21, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

With Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. set to submit his budget, the Legislative Black Caucus and other lawmakers made pleas yesterday for the governor to fully fund the Thornton plan to ensure all Maryland children receive a quality education.

The black caucus, in an uncommon sign of solidarity, said during a news conference that its members stood united in a call for Ehrlich to make education funding the state's No. 1 priority. Caucus members said they do not intend to negotiate deals with the administration.

"There is one deal: Thornton," said Del. Obie Patterson, a Prince George's County Democrat and chairman of the caucus. "We want it funded, and we want it fully funded."

Yesterday, 61 delegates also signed a petition to the governor that urges him to provide the money needed for the Thornton plan. And the Maryland State Teachers Association issued a statement saying that "increasing the state sales tax by one penny to save Maryland's public schools is an option legislators should seriously consider."

Ehrlich has said he intends to fully fund this coming year's installment of the Thornton plan, a costly program to boost statewide school performance, but said he cannot guarantee funding in the future without a new source of revenues such as slot machine gambling. Also, he is relying on an attorney general's opinion that says he does not need to provide $45 million of the Thornton funds that larger counties were expecting.

Black caucus members said yesterday that they oppose withholding the $45 million.

When the governor's budget is released today, "what is certain is Maryland students will be the beneficiaries of the largest increase of public education funding in Maryland history," said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman.

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