BALTIMORE — Defying Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s veto and Bush administration threats of a cutoff in federal funding, the Maryland General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to block a state takeover of 11 Baltimore public schools under Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

Capping a tumultuous 90-day session of the Legislature in Annapolis, the Senate voted 30-17 April 10 to override Ehrlich’s veto of a bill that delays for one year the takeover of four high schools and seven middle schools in Baltimore. On April 8, the House voted 97-42 to override the veto.

In hopes of intimidating the lawmakers two days before the vote, Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick released a letter from U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Raymond Simon warning that the Bush administration might terminate $171 million in federal aid to Baltimore schools if the Legislature voted to override Ehrlich’s veto.

“This is all orchestrated by the right-wing Republican Party,” said Senate President Thomas P. Mike Miller Jr. “They think we’re too stupid to know that the phone lines go straight from Gov. Ehrlich’s office … to President Bush’s office to the Republican Senate committees to the congressional campaign committees. We’re going to override the veto and I’m going to push the button extra hard.”

The terminated federal funds would be those earmarked under Title One of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for the poorest schools serving the most impoverished children in the city.

Ehrlich has blocked as much as $800 million in funding for Baltimore schools ordered by Baltimore Circuit Judge H.H. Kaplan in the year 2000 to satisfy a constitutional requirement of an adequate education for every child in Maryland. According to the court-appointed Thornton Commission, Baltimore is $3,100 below parity in per pupil funding.

Two years ago, Ehrlich offered to bail Baltimore schools out of a severe financial crisis if the city agreed to a state takeover. With students and parents marching in the streets against this privatization scam, Mayor Martin O’Malley rejected Ehrlich’s offer and the city bailed itself out of the crisis.

This year’s attempted schools takeover is seen as a crude political maneuver by Ehrlich to embarrass O’Malley, his likely Democratic opponent in the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election. But the veto, and especially the Bush administration threat, triggered an angry backlash from a Democratic-majority Legislature that had already voted repeatedly to override Ehrlich vetoes.

O’Malley commented, “In this day and age, whenever we want to continue to make progress, we have to override a gubernatorial veto.” O’Malley accused Ehrlich of attempting to humiliate “a multicultural, proud and diverse and strong people” by telling Baltimore “that we cannot achieve.”

“Don’t you believe it!” he said.