- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

Monday night’s demonstration in Annapolis, which turned into a de facto campaign rally for higher taxes to fund Maryland public schools, has spurred Gov. Robert Ehrlich to do something that state officials should have done years ago: re-evaluate the current public service requirement in state education law.

The governor has asked Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick to request that all school systems account for incentives, including transportation and community service credits, that they offered students to attend the rally, which became a political demonstration against Mr. Ehrlich.

Certainly, no one can object to Marylanders going to Annapolis to demonstrate for a political cause they believe in. But one can certainly take issue with the use of taxpayer money and community service credits to subsidize participation in partisan political activity. And that’s precisely what occurred in the days leading up to Monday night’s rally in favor of the Thornton plan. In Prince George’s County, schools were closed two hours early so that teachers could attend the rally. In Baltimore, the school system subsidized buses that transported people to Annapolis. And in Montgomery County, students received two hours of community service credit for attending the demonstration.

Under a measure approved by the State Board of Education, Maryland students are required to perform community service in order to graduate. “Community service” is defined by each school district. In Montgomery County, it includes activities that give students opportunities “to lend their voices and talents to correct a problem or an injustice.”

So, at Monday’s rally, a raucous crowd of up to 8,000, carrying signs reading “Fund our schools” and “Show us the money,” and “Don’t Gamble With Our Children,” descended on Annapolis for the rally. It was sponsored by the Maryland State Teachers Association (the state affiliate of the National Education Association). Speakers and participants at the rally included Mrs. Grasmick, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan.

Messrs. O’Malley and Duncan are two leading candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006. The crux of their complaint is that Mr. Ehrlich, who wants to pay for Thornton (which will increase state education spending by $1.3 billion annually by 2008) by utilizing revenue from slot machines, is wrong. They want to force him to increase taxes, and the governor rightly opposes this.

We commend Mr. Ehrlich for insisting on a full accounting of how much tax money was used to finance Monday night’s rally. And we believe that Maryland law should be changed to prohibit political advocacy from masquerading as “public service” in the public schools.

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