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Educators demonstrate for dollars

March 20, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County educators stood in front of the State House on Wednesday and sang their message to lawmakers to the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the 'No Child Left Behind.' It is mapping out the pathways to bring each school into line. It will cost a lot of dollars, so that's what's on our minds. We need the money now. Glory, glory, where's the funding?"

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly approved substantial increases in the amount of state money going to public schools. Under the plan, Washington County would get $23.1 million over six years.

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But with less tax money coming in due to the slow economy, some legislative leaders are talking about scaling back or delaying the so-called Thornton plan.

A group of about 300 teachers, parents and school board members from across the state rallied Wednesday to urge lawmakers to keep their promise.

About 40 people came by bus from Hagerstown, arriving a little late as the rally was winding down.

"We're in a situation where we really need to show our support," said Anita Lemonakis, a fourth-grade teacher at Old Forge Elementary.

Alvin Thornton, who chaired the commission that came up with the plan, said lawmakers have come too far to turn back now.

"We cannot allow momentary budget issues to set aside an educational mandate for our children," Thornton told the educators gathered for the rally. "We have to share the wealth with our babies."

Pat Foerster, president of Maryland State Teachers Association, said students can't wait another year.

"Their future should not be tossed about in backroom conversations and front-page slogans," she said. "How long will education be a political football?"

After the rally, the group from Washington County sang their battle song and met with local lawmakers.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said money for education is a top priority for the governor as well as for the legislature, with virtually everyone campaigning on the issue last fall.

But its $1.3 billion price tag over six years underscores the need for putting slot machines at racetracks to raise money for the state, he said.

"Thornton's going to grow like a bird in the sky. That's the reason we need slots," he said.

Meanwhile, the House of Delegates debated a tax package Wednesday that would raise more than $200 million.

Republicans tried to remove what they viewed as the most burdensome taxes, including a 2 percent tax on managed care organizations and increased fees on businesses. Their proposed amendments failed.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, was the only Washington County lawmaker to reject any changes.

"The theatrics in putting together these amendments was just partisan politics," he said.

Donoghue said the money raised will help protect programs important to Washington County such as the Medbank prescription drug program.

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