The event, organized by the Algebra Project, a student-run tutoring program that has its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, ended with an early afternoon march from City Hall to the state Board of Education's headquarters on West Baltimore Street.
For more than a year, the "math literacy workers" who run the program have been trying to spread awareness of a state judge's ruling in the Bradford v. Maryland school funding case in 2000. It said Baltimore schools were being shortchanged by about $200 million a year in state funds.
The ruling prompted the legislature to pass the so-called Thornton bill in 2002 to provide the city and other school systems with increases in funding over six years.
The increases have not been fulfilled in past years because the bill did not specify a funding source, but lawmakers say they intend to catch up by 2008.
The Algebra Project redoubled its efforts after Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan ruled again in Bradford in August, ordering the city and the state to come up with millions of dollars this school year to undo budget cuts the school system implemented in reaction to last year's $58 million deficit.
The students have repeatedly testified about the matter at the state school board.
State education officials have declined to respond, noting their appeal of Kaplan's most recent ruling. They contend he overstepped his authority in ordering more funding for city schools.
Several speakers at the rally accused the state of continuing to violate Kaplan's order and students' constitutional right to an adequate education.
Brandon Roane, president of the Algebra Project, stood on a wooden podium on City Hall's steps giving a speech modeled after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
"I have a dream that, one day, the state of Maryland ... will be transformed into a haven of freedom and education," the Polytechnic Institute senior said, his voice booming across War Memorial Plaza. "I have a dream that my future children will one day live in a state where the quality of their education will not be determined by the city in which they live but by their desire to learn."
Some adults who addressed the crowd said they were unhappy that more parents and city leaders did not attend.
"Few people have taken the time to come out and support you," the Rev. James H. Jones II, head of a community group called Rescue in Progress, told the students, who made up about two-thirds of the group assembled. "I hope other people will see your effort and come out and support you."