Campaign Ad Watch

Ehrlich education record

July 19, 2006|By ANDREW A. GREEN

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. began airing his third television spot of his re-election campaign yesterday, promoting his record in improving education. It will be running in the Baltimore area for about a week. It stresses increases in funding for primary and secondary education but does not mention the General Assembly's role in requiring them. It also promotes the expansion of charter schools and increases in test scores during Ehrlich's term.

What the ad says: The ad features video of a series of women speaking about Ehrlich's education record. One says he has dedicated 45 percent of his budget to education. Another says he promised to give parents choice and succeeded in pushing an expansion of charter schools through the legislature. The ad ends on an optimistic note, with women talking about rising test scores and a diminishing achievement gap between white and minority students.

"Never mind what cannot be done," one woman says. "What can we do. It is the `can' part that is terrific."

The facts: Ehrlich included record increases in education funding in his budgets, which he was required to do by a law passed by the General Assembly in 2002, before he was elected. He did not fund a part of the law, commonly known as the Thornton Plan, that would have compensated districts where it costs more to educate students, saying he considers that part of the plan optional.

Before Ehrlich was elected, the Assembly had been reluctant to pass a charter school law. He made it a priority in his first year in office and compromised with legislators to achieve its passage.

The ad highlights a phrase from a recent Washington Post article, "surge in reading and mathematics test scores," to back up its claim that student achievement is on the rise. But the article actually said "Student achievement gains in Maryland public schools have slowed after an initial surge in reading and mathematics test scores, signaling that educators now face a much stiffer challenge to meet the ambitious goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law."

Analysis: The ad is stylistically similar to the governor's previous two television spots. It does not picture the governor but instead relies on the testimony of what seem to be average Marylanders. In this case, the speakers are all women, a demographic in which polls show Ehrlich trails the likely Democratic candidate, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Education is consistently a top concern of Maryland voters, and Ehrlich has indicated on the stump that he will wage a harsh attack on O'Malley on education by citing the test scores of Baltimore students, which are the worst in the state despite some recent improvements. However, the governor maintains an entirely positive message in this ad, as he has in the previous two.

The ad follows the campaign's apparent strategy to use the summer months to build a favorable impression of the governor as a moderate who cares about issues of importance to the middle-class, suburban voters who are the key to his chances for re-election.

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