BALTIMORE – Hundreds of public school students rallied at City Hall here March 9 and marched to the nearby Maryland State Department of Education chanting “Books not bombs” and “Education not incarceration.”

The protest was part of an outpouring in defense of public education that included nationwide “Books Not Bombs” demonstrations, March 4, and a march of more than 500 ACORN members in Washington on March 8 protesting George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” scam.

The Baltimore youth denounced Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s demand that the city surrender control of Baltimore schools before he will approve a $42 million state loan to reduce a $58 million deficit. Mayor Martin O’Malley offered a loan from the city’s “rainy day” fund to block the state takeover, which would include abrogation of school employee contracts, layoffs and cutbacks. Last month, the city’s 6,000 teachers voted overwhelmingly against salary cuts and furloughs to bail out the system.

“We’re angry. We can’t take no more,” Shantel M. Edmonson, a Western High School senior, shouted into a bullhorn at the City Hall rally. “Our teachers are reaching into their own pockets to pay for supplies.”

Keva Green, a 10th grader at City College High School, pointed out that a court ordered the state to provide $260 million yearly in extra money to Baltimore to equalize per pupil funding. “We don’t want a loan. We want the money that they owe us,” she said. “I can’t understand why President Bush can’t get involved in this. He builds schools in Iraq and has no money for schools here in Baltimore.”

Steven Johnson, a student at Lake Clifton High, pointed in the direction of the spanking new Baltimore youth detention center. “If they can build these beautiful facilities to lock us up, why can’t they find the money to educate us?” he said as the crowd cheered.

The students rallied again in front of the Maryland Education Department building. Tammia Miller, an ACORN activist, mother of a student at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, told the crowd, “Right now, the governor is in contempt of court. He hasn’t given us a dime of that $260 million. But Mayor O’Malley has stepped up to the plate. We must not direct our anger against each other.” Ehrlich has refused to release any of the court-ordered money until the legislature approves slot machine gambling.

A day earlier, Baltimoreans rode a yellow school bus to Washington to attend the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) legislative action day. ACORN President Maude Hurd told the standing-room crowd in Friendship Baptist Church, “We’re here to make some noise … President Bush and the Republicans who control Congress have proposed a budget. Guess what it does? It cuts taxes for the rich again. And it cuts money for housing, for emergency assistance, for education again. We’re going to march on Capitol Hill to tell our representatives: Vote no on Bush’s budget! Vote yes to tax the rich!”

The marchers later rallied on the west Capitol grounds. Baltimore’s Rep. Elijah Cummings, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “We have a selected president who had the audacity to steal the Children’s Defense Fund slogan, ‘No Child Left Behind.’ Yet he is leaving an entire generation of children behind.”

The greatest threat “is our failure to educate our children,” Cummings added. “When Halliburton gets billions in no-bid contracts in Iraq and there is no money for our schools at home, there is something wrong.”

Bishop Thomas Hoyt, president of the 52-million-member National Council of Churches, said, “I want you to get out the vote, and vote the right way. I can’t tell you how to vote, but stop being Bushwhacked!”

The crowd then marched to the U.S. Department of Education to protest under-funding of No Child Left Behind. “Show us the money,” they chanted, and “We want Rod!”

They were referring to Education Secretary Rod Paige who last week branded the 2.7-million-member National Education Association (NEA) a “terrorist organization.”

NEA President Reg Weaver spoke to the ACORN conference earlier that day. “State after state says they don’t have the resources to implement No Child Left Behind,” Weaver said. “They call you names if you have the audacity to raise questions about it … they called NEA a ‘terrorist organization.’ It is important that we have a response. We have to get our folks out to vote for candidates who will be advocates for us. Who do you want to wake up to on Nov. 3?”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.

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