More than 8,500 educators, activists and students clad in red gathered Monday evening in the state capital, urging legislators to increase public school funding.
“This is one of the most important things we can do — the state cannot continue to pretend we are adequately funded,” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich told a crowd in front of the Maryland State House after a march that spanned about three-quarters of a mile.
“It is time for the state to step up and take responsibility and when they’re doing it, they need to enlarge the pie. It shouldn’t be about cutting the pie into different sized pieces, it should be about making it bigger,” said Elrich, a former teacher.
Teachers and parents who participated said class sizes are too big, buildings are too old and teachers are underpaid, citing state Department of Education statistics that say Maryland schools are annually underfunded by $2.9 billion.
Montgomery County’s per pupil spending — about $16,500 – is the fifth highest in Maryland. The county’s school board operating budget proposal for the next budget year is $2.65 billion, a roughly 2 percent increase from this year.
Montgomery County teachers, parents, elected officials and some students joined the rally and said with recommendations to improve schools outlined by a commission studying education priorities, “the time is now” to increase school funding.
The Kirwan Commission studied state public schools for two years, examining ways to boost them to some of the best in the world, and suggested expanding pre-kindergarten and giving teachers a raise.
Last week, the House of Delegates approved legislation that would increase public schools spending by $1 billion over the next two years to start implementing the commission’s recommendations.
Many of the people who participated in the march traveled to the event together, in more than 170 buses from across the state.
They wore red, rang cowbells to show support for speakers and carried signs that read “Our kids can’t wait,” “Fund our schools” and “The time is now.”
Organizers estimated the turnout to be the largest for a demonstration in Annapolis in nearly a decade.
While local schools have a backlog of more than $1 billion in construction projects and school board members say they wish they had more money to add staff positions across the county, Montgomery participants advocated for equal funding across the state.
Montgomery County government has a four-year plan to expand access to pre-kindergarten teachers. Additionally, the Board of Education has added money to its budget to reduce elementary class sizes. But without help from the state, students’ education isn’t reaching its full potential, they say.
“Our public schools are our most indispensable and social and economic resource. Tomorrow is already too late to make the necessary investments in our future,” District 1 County Council member Andrew Friedson said after the rally. “Our kids can’t wait. Our teachers can’t wait. Our communities and our economy can’t wait.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com