ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A huge gathering of teachers, students and community supporters marched in Annapolis on Monday night in a call for increased school funding.
More than 5,000 educators from the Maryland State Education Association signed up to attend the rally Monday evening, the state's largest union said. Teachers were joined by hundreds of parents, students and community leaders.
"The time is past due," said Cassandra Peters-Johnson, a speech therapist at High Point High School in Prince George's County. "I'm feeling some energy tonight, and I'm glad to see so many educators and parents and students and community members here."
Participants dressed in red thronged the inbound lanes of a major road leading to the Maryland State House, shortly before lawmakers were scheduled to gather for a Monday night session. The crowd cheering and holding signs stretched for blocks along the road.
"This is part of the 'Red for Ed' movement that we see across the country, and it has taken on many forms. And in our state it is a rally of thousands who are coming together tonight while the General Assembly is in session to say we need this funding and we need this commitment," said Cheryl Bost, president of MSEA.
A commission in Maryland has recommended increased funding and policy changes, and lawmakers now are considering legislation to begin implementing them.
The March for Our Schools in Maryland follows rallies by public school educators in other states throughout the last year. In some states, like neighboring West Virginia, educator activism led to strikes. Activists in Maryland are voicing frustration at delays in better funding and urging lawmakers to follow through with recommendations, but they're not talking strike.
"A strike is not on our radar, but we do ask the public to join us in calling their legislators, calling the governor and making sure that they pass this bill, a blueprint for Maryland's future, and that they agree to what it's going to take to build our public schools, Bost said."
Last week, leading Maryland Democrats outlined a 10-year blueprint to improve education. It includes more than $1 billion in the state budget over the next two years to begin implementing recommendations from a state commission. That includes free full-day pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families. It also would raise teacher salaries to encourage good teachers to stay in classrooms.
Legislation in Maryland also calls for improving college and career readiness of high school graduates. A fourth policy area would add resources for students from low-income families and those with disabilities to meet college and career readiness standards.
The Maryland commission has estimated that fully implementing its recommendations would increase annual education spending by an estimated $3.8 billion a year, starting about 10 years from now. The panel has decided to keep working on how the state and local governments would divide that cost.
About 20 years ago, Alvin Thornton led a commission on state education funding formulas that are still in place. He said he's seeing a consensus re-emerging among lawmakers to act, even if it's coming about three years late. He said the delay should not continue.
"There's a sense of urgency," Thornton said. "Our kids cannot wait."