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Thousands of Maryland teachers rally for education funding in Annapolis

Lauren Lumpkin
Contact Reporterllumpkin@capgaznews.com

If Sarah Carr hadn’t marched with thousands of other Maryland teachers, she would have spent her Monday night grading a stack of social studies essays, she said.

“They’ll be waiting for me when I get to school at six in the morning,” said the Old Mill High School social studies teacher.

Carr was among a group of teachers who skipped dinner, missed shifts at second jobs and avoided writing tests to rally in downtown Annapolis for education funding. At Old Mill, a group piled into two school buses, snacked on Doritos and wrote letters to lawmakers.

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The teachers joined thousands of others at “March for Our Schools.” The event drew teachers from across the state who convened in front of the State Capitol to demand more school funding, higher wages and expanded pre-kindergarten education.

Politicians, including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and county executives from Montgomery, Baltimore and Anne Arundel, attended the rally. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, who won his seat in November, pledged to make education funding a priority for his administration. He won Anne Arundel teachers over with promises to return step increases that went unfunded between 2008 and 2013.

“We had an election and education won,” Pittman said, scrunching his legs to fit into his seat on the Old Mill school bus. “We need to step it up this year.”

Droves of teachers descended on Annapolis in red hats and matching T-shirts. Leading up to the event, Annapolis police expected between 5,000 and 7,000 participants.

They rang metal cowbells and touted carefully designed posters.

“Schools just want to have funds,” one read. Another: “My second job paid for this sign.”

Jennifer Berkley, a Cecil County teacher, said she joined the rally to demand more funding.

“They expect us to do our jobs with less,” she said as she marched down Rowe Boulevard.

Jaden Vacura, who works with children with special needs in Frederick County, complained of wages she said force “good teachers” out of the profession.

Vacura made the hour-long commute from Linganore High School to demand a “living wage” so she can move out of her mother’s house, she said.

The Maryland State Education Association estimates Maryland schools are underfunded by nearly $2.9 billion. Lawmakers are attempting to close that gap this legislative session by pouring more money for schools into Gov. Larry Hogan’s $46 billion proposed state budget.

The House of Delegates on Friday approved a spending plan that would provide an additional $320 million for public education. Maryland senators are considering legislation proponents say will incentivize school districts to get a jump start on recommendations set forth by the so-called Kirwan Commission.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, called for more funding and accountability in a statement Monday night.

“When the historic Thornton Commission funding was passed in 2002, it was widely believed that what our schools needed was more funding,” Kipke said. “After more than a decade after Thornton, the achievement gap continues, and less than half of our students can pass assessments in English and math.”

Teachers say their students are feeling the pressures that come with strained resources.

“Our kids can’t wait,” said Susan Lee, a fourth-grade teacher at Fulton Elementary School in Howard County. She said she came to march for smaller class sizes and more English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers.

Lee teachers 26 students every day. But classes sizes can balloon to 30 students, she said.

“If I have a student who needs my full attention, I have 25 others,” she said. “It’s not enough.”

Samantha Parry teaches Kindergarten at Cedarmere Elementary School in Baltimore County. The county, like many others statewide, has seen increased enrollment among students with limited English proficiency; 10 of Parry’s students receive ESOL instruction.

But there are not enough staff to meet their needs, Parry said.

And, unlike other counties, Parry receives pay for 10 months each year, not 12. She wants that to change. Parry takes up a summer job as a camp counselor to make ends meet, she said.

Educators, parents and a handful of students disembarked buses at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Monday evening and marched down Rowe Boulevard.

They met speakers at the state Capitol, including education experts, school superintendents and local leaders like Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh called for equitable funding.

“The time is now,” she said. “We’re not asking for anything that doesn’t belong to us.”

When Andrea Chevez, 10th-grader at Oxon Hill High School in Prince George’s County, asked lawmakers to fund mental and behavioral health services, Kimberly Greene-Herbert rattled her cowbell.

Greene-Herbert is one of three school counselors at Mattawoman Middle School in Charles County. Her caseload comprises of 355 students. The American School Counselor Association recommends 250 students for every school counselor.

“When we’re well-funded and respected, that means we can be better teachers,” Carr said.

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