Twenty-five protesters, most of them Baltimore high school students, were detained yesterday after they charged up the steps of the State House demanding that Gov. Martin O'Malley be arrested for not addressing what they called a "historic underfunding" of Maryland public schools.
The demonstrators were handcuffed as they lay still, as if dead, before the bronze doors of the building. They had pressed past more than a dozen police officers, strung crime-scene tape along the stair railings of the State House and called O'Malley's budget proposal to slow the rate of education funding increases "a crime."
The detained protesters, including a Baltimore public school teacher and two dozen students from high schools and colleges in Baltimore and Washington, were held for about an hour by Department of General Services Police before they were released.
The demonstration, organized by the Baltimore Algebra Project, a student-run tutoring and advocacy group, involved about 150 high school and college students who said inadequate education funding has led to juvenile crime and the killing last month of one of the Algebra Project's members, Zachariah Hallback, who was shot in Northeast Baltimore during a robbery.
They lay a coffin symbolizing Hallback's death before the State House while loudly reciting, "No education, no life."
"We are identifying this place as a crime scene," organizer Christopher Goodman said to the protesters, who gathered before a bronze statue of Thurgood Marshall. "Every year, they underfund our schools, they kill us."
O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said in an e-mail, "The governor has met with representatives from the Algebra Project in the past, and he shares their commitment to improving public education in our state."
O'Malley's proposed budget provides "a record $5.3 billion for K-12 education - an increase of $184 million over last year," Abbruzzese said.
O'Malley's proposal would change the way education funding is calculated in the landmark Thornton law, a move that, coupled with other formula adjustments, means Maryland public school districts would receive about $133 million less than they had expected.
Baltimore school officials have estimated that the city school system would receive about $45 million less over the next two years in state aid than it would have had the Thornton formula stayed in effect.
O'Malley's plan has sparked concern among teachers unions and superintendents, but the backlash had remained fairly muted until the demonstration yesterday.
Demonstrators - some as young as 11 - said they considered a provocative protest necessary to draw attention to their cause.
Charles Waters, a 16-year-old junior at City College, smiled as he sat in handcuffs on the sidewalk.
"This is beautiful. This is exactly what we wanted," he said. "We've been ignored for too long. All we're doing is fighting for our schools, our education, our future."