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Published in Print: February 18, 2004, as Md. School-Funding Rally Draws About 10,000

Md. School-Funding Rally Draws About 10,000

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Thousands of protesters marched on the Maryland Capitol last week to support a plan to raise school funding in the state.

The Feb. 9 rally in Annapolis drew educators, school board members, and even some schoolchildren who back the 2-year-old effort to dramatically increase the K-12 budget and equalize spending across districts. Organizers of the evening event estimated that at least 10,000 attended.

The size of the crowd was larger than expected, according to Debra Williams-Garner, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Teachers Association. The National Education Association affiliate co-sponsored the event with groups representing parent- teacher groups, school boards, and school administrators.

The size of the crowd "is a testament to the seriousness of the issue," she said.

In 1994, Maryland legislators passed a law to increase annual education spending by $1.6 billion over six years. This year, lawmakers must pass a $382 million—or about 10 percent—increase to keep that promise on schedule.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who took office a year ago, has proposed funding that amount by opening video gaming at horse-racing tracks and other venues—a plan that failed to clear the legislature last year. The state teachers' union recommends raising the sales tax 1 percentage point—from 5 percent to 6 percent.

Mr. Ehrlich promised not to raise taxes when he campaigned for governor in 2002, said Henry P. Fawell, a spokesman for the governor. "He's got a $700 million-a-year plan to fund [education increases], and it's a popular one, too," Mr. Fawell said.

Service Credits

To give teachers and students time to attend the rally, the 137,000-student Prince George's County, Md., schools closed early on Feb. 9. Other districts rented school buses to organizers to transport marchers.

Some high schools students who attended the rally earned community-service credits, which the state requires for graduation. State regulations allow districts to grant credits for political activities if students provide proof of attendance and write papers about the experience, according to Brian J. Porter, a spokesman for the 139,000-student Montgomery County, Md., district.

Vol. 23, Issue 23, Page 31

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