You had to wonder – looking at the throng of 1,600 public school supporters from Baltimore who traveled to Annapolis in buses and cars last night and braved torrential rains to rally outside the Maryland State House – why they did it.
A mother of three explained – they did it for the kids.
“If they keep taking stuff away from our children, what else will there be to cut?” Charmaine Ward-Jones asked. The $15-million in budget cuts that Baltimore schools would suffer under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed spending plan, Ward-Jones said, would take precious resources away from schoolkids who have little as it is.
“They don’t even have places to go [after school] since they’ve shut down the rec centers,” she added.
Ward-Jones said she originally became involved in the Baltimore Education Coalition, the organizers of the rally, because she was concerned about her own children’s education, but since has come to see the cause as bigger and broader.
“When I went to one of their meetings, it really got to me. I came out and built connections with parents and the community, and now we are letting them know that this fight won’t end this year.”
“Even if my kids grow old and graduate,” she said. “I will still be fighting for this cause.”
(Go here to see a slideshow of scenes from the rally.)
“A Promise Made…”
When the rally began only a small group of people could be found at Lawyers Mall, the traditional gathering place for groups trying to be heard by state lawmakers.
But it wasn’t long before the rain-delayed buses carrying Baltimore community members arrived.
Kate Martin, a teacher at Commodore John Rogers School in Butcher’s Hill, showed up with her husband Marc and two kids in tow.
“This is great sign of support for Baltimore by Baltimore,” said Marc Martin, principal at Commodore John Rogers, looking around at the sweeping crowd that organizers had earlier predicted might only number 500 because of the stormy weather.
“We came out to make sure that our legislators know that the Thornton funding was a promise to fully fund our children’s education, and we’re here to make sure they keep that promise,” explained Martin.
The proposed budget slashes Baltimore schools by changing the per-pupil funding mechanism called the Thornton formula.
Dr. Alvin Thornton, the chairman of the commission that produced the formula, spoke at the rally and said that the state made a promise to provide quality education to the children of Maryland.
“A promise made is a promise kept,” he said.
His comment became the BEC’s rallying cry, taken up by the rain-soaked but happy crowd, who chanted, “Keep the promise! Keep the promise!”
BEC co-chair Sue Fothergill explained before the rally that protecting Thornton benefits students across the state.
“Our goal is to have per-pupil funding fully restored,” she said. “It would be for every child in the state of Maryland, not just Baltimore.”
Students Speak Out
As buses continued to arrive throughout the rally, the Mall turned into a sea of umbrellas. Two Democratic delegates from Baltimore, Curtis Anderson and Kieffer J. Mitchell Jr.; Pastor Kevin Brown; BEC director Shannen Coleman and City Schools CEO Andres Alonso spoke.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was due to speak, but was detained due to the weather.
Hundreds of cheering students were also on hand, including Joshua Samuels, a freshman at City Neighbors High School.
Samuels told the crowd, “I don’t want the budget cut because I believe that better education leads to better jobs and a better life,” he said. “And I don’t want my younger cousins and family to miss the same opportunities I was given.”
Baltimore schools chief Alonso praised the crowd’s commitment in supporting public schools. “I just hope we don’t have to do this every year,” the soaked educator added with a smile.