Education coalition mobilizing to fight cuts to city schools

Rally planned in Annapolis for Feb. 28

February 07, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore education advocates are mobilizing residents to rally in Annapolis this month against a $15 million cut in state aid to city schools under Gov. Martin O'Malley's recently proposed budget.

Representatives from about 25 education stakeholders in the city — known as the Baltimore Education Coalition — met Monday to plan for the Education Funding Rally on Feb. 28. The group expects to draw more than double the 600 participants who showed up for last year's rally in the state capital.

In 2009, when the coalition was formed, the group planned a rally that ultimately turned into a celebration after O'Malley withdrew a plan to change the state's education funding formula — known as Thornton — in light of the federal stimulus money that was heading to Maryland.

This year, changes to the Thornton formula are back on the table, and coalition members said that although the stimulus well is dry, the state still has a responsibility to fully fund Maryland's schools.

The formula was designed to direct more per-pupil funding to poorer areas such as Baltimore City and Prince George's County than to wealthier areas such as Montgomery County. But O'Malley's current plan would cut aid to Baltimore schools by $15 million and to Prince George's County schools by $21 million, while Montgomery County would get $33 million more.

Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso has said that the reduction to city schools would "inevitably mean a loss in services and offerings, and an increase in class size in many schools."

"We knew going into the session that we were going to have an uphill battle this year because last year we had stimulus money," said Shannen Coleman of the Child First Authority, who is co-chair of the coalition. "It's a unifying issue in Baltimore because what's at stake on the west side is the same thing at stake in Roland Park."

In the past month, the coalition has been meeting in every city district to explain to school communities the impact of the formula change and encouraging them to sign up in busloads to attend the rally.

Parents are especially taking notice, said Tara Hayes, representative of Elev8Baltimore, which runs support programs in some of the city's most struggling schools.

"Parents are very willing to fight for their children," Hayes said.

Buses for the Education Funding Rally will leave the city at 5:30 p.m. and return at 9:30 p.m. For more information on how to attend the rally, go to http://www.becforourkids.org.

erica.green@baltsun.com

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