Ehrlich backs school plan

Campaign Ad Watch


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has launched the fifth advertisement of his re-election campaign and the second in a row critical of Baltimore City schools and Democrats' efforts to stop a partial state takeover of management of some schools. Although the subject matter is similar to his previous commercial, this one breaks ground stylistically: It is the first in which Ehrlich appears personally.

The ad began running Sunday in the Baltimore, Hagerstown and Salisbury markets. It will run for 7 to 10 days.

What it says: The ad begins with the governor standing on a tree-lined street with rowhouses stretching behind him. "This Baltimore neighborhood deserves excellent public schools, but with some students unable to read their diplomas, 54 schools need help immediately." Ehrlich says that the state school board voted to take over 11 of the worst schools but that the legislature "voted to give the mayor more time."

"We disagree," Ehrlich said. "Whether it means bringing in outside experts, more charter schools or tougher discipline, I'm committed to doing whatever it takes to put every child on a path to success right away."

The facts: Baltimore elementary schools have performed better in the past several years, but the city has more schools than any jurisdiction in the state that are classified as failing under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In March, at the behest of State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school board voted to take over 11 middle and high schools that had been failing to meet standards since at least 1997. Under the plan, management of four high schools would be turned over to a private company or nonprofit organization that would report to the state. The seven middle schools would become charter schools or be operated by a third party under the supervision of the city school board.

The move sparked an outcry among parents, students, teachers, administrators and others in the city. Democrats in the General Assembly - with Mayor Martin O'Malley's backing - voted to maintain the current management structure for at least a year, placing a moratorium on a state takeover. Under the current arrangement, the governor and the mayor share control of the city schools. Ehrlich vetoed the bill, and the Assembly overrode him.

The statistics Ehrlich uses to back up his claim that some graduates couldn't read their diplomas are from tests designed to measure whether they have achieved high-school level reading proficiency, not basic literacy.

Analysis: Ehrlich has been discussing the Baltimore school system nearly nonstop on the campaign trail, speaking with more passion about it than any other issue. Talking directly to voters for the first time in his television advertisements, Ehrlich appears to be trying to convey that his interest in the issue is sincere and not opportunistic, as his opponents have charged.

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