O'Malley, Brown take on schools, criticism


Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign for governor launched a 30-second television commercial yesterday promising to improve public education, a week after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. began airing a spot critical of Baltimore schools.

While O'Malley relays a positive image in the TV ad, which will appear in the Baltimore market, his campaign simultaneously released a 60-second commercial on six Baltimore-area radio stations in which the mayor's running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's County, attacks Ehrlich's criticism of city schools.

What the TV ad says: O'Malley, sharing the screen with scenes of schoolchildren, says, "strengthening middle-class families and increasing opportunities starts with quality public education."

"That's why my education plan will improve achievement by reducing class sizes, by getting a quality teacher in every classroom and by making sure that every school is a safe place to learn," he says. "Because every child deserves a chance to compete ... and Maryland deserves a public school system second to none."

The on-screen text says "endorsed by Maryland teachers."

As the screen displays a checkerboard of scenes of O'Malley with children and students at school, a narrator ends the spot saying: "Martin O'Malley. A governor strengthening middle-class families."

The facts: Despite the narrator's statement, O'Malley is not governor, but rather the likely Democratic nominee.

O'Malley has promised to reduce class sizes by increasing state money for school construction to $400 million in his first budget. A state commission has recommended $250 million. He said the state should borrow money, if needed, to fund the plan.

O'Malley has been endorsed by the Maryland State Teachers Association, which represents 65,000 teachers. He has said he would improve the state's pension for educators, review a state repayment plan for teachers' college loans and improve government support for new teachers. The plan offers no specifics on how to pay for such efforts.

In addition, the mayor's plan does not say how he would fight school crime, but aides said increased staffing and improved infrastructure will help ensure secure facilities.

What the radio ad says: "It's shameful to watch Maryland's governor attack the hard work and dedication of Baltimore's teachers, parents and students, when the facts show Baltimore's schools are making real progress," Brown says.

"The truth? Test scores for Baltimore schools are up, and graduation rates are improving. But it's no surprise Bob Ehrlich is attacking their progress, given his own failed record on education."

He says Ehrlich "broke his promise to fully fund our schools, and he cut millions in school construction."

The facts: Test scores and graduation rates are improving in the city.

But Ehrlich did include record increases in education funding in his budgets, which he was required to do by a law passed by the General Assembly in 2002, before he was elected. Aides say he budgeted more than he had to. He did not, however, fund a part of the law that would have compensated districts where it costs more to educate students. He has said he considers that part of the plan optional.

This year's funding for school construction is $338 million, far more than the commission's recommendation and the highest allocation in state history, Ehrlich officials say.

Analysis: Education is the top issue for Maryland voters, and the city's schools are widely seen as one of O'Malley's weak points, which is why Ehrlich is attacking the mayor on the issue even though the governor's ad never mentions the mayor. That could also be why O'Malley is forging headlong into the schools debate, to offset the criticism with a positive message.

Yet O'Malley never mentions city schools or his record on education in the television commercial, his sixth ad in a Baltimore region broadcast push with a total cost of $630,000. Republicans are likely to use that omission as evidence that the mayor is running on platitudes and promises, not on his record.

O'Malley also never mentions Ehrlich, leaving that to Brown. Traditionally, lieutenant governor candidates are charged with public bashing of the opponent so that the candidate at the top of the ticket can try to remain above the fray.

doug.donovan@balt sun.com

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