Teachers' pets

February 08, 2004

THERE'S A PLACE for high school students in the General Assembly. Annapolis can provide a great and lasting lesson in citizenship. Having teens advocate for an issue or participate in a public rally? More power to them.

But what happens when public school teachers and administrators organize that rally and in certain jurisdictions go so far as to dismiss school early, use school buses for transportation and offer students credit toward their volunteer service requirement for attending - all for legislation that may benefit these educators personally?

That's what has happened with tomorrow evening's planned State House rally organized by a coalition of advocacy groups and school labor unions. They're protesting on behalf of the Thornton Plan, the $1.3 billion effort to boost public school funding. In the language of education, this might be a "teachable" moment, but it sounds like the lesson needed is in ethics.

One needn't be a Thornton detractor to think something's amiss. After all, the more money that goes into public education, the more that's available for salaries, the single biggest expense for schools. Might educators be using their influence over these young minds for self-serving purposes? It certainly can be seen as such.

Organizers say they've tried to avoid such a conflict. They say the rally in Annapolis was deliberately scheduled for after-school hours for that very reason. Participants were also told that no public money should be spent and that students must be at least 13 and accompanied by a parent.

But one has to wonder if this is an ideal way to learn civics. Are teachers offering their students a balanced view of the state's finances? It seems unlikely many of the students coming to Annapolis tomorrow will be asking for budget cuts.

Admittedly, Thornton is a Mom and apple pie issue. But what if the rally had been on behalf of slot machines? How repellent would it be to have teens on the State House steps crying out for casinos? And yet, advocating for Thornton may translate into the same thing. Certainly, that's how Maryland's governor sees it.

Make no mistake, we support full funding of Thornton. We just can't endorse lobbying that so flagrantly uses children as props to be seen on the 6 o'clock news.

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