Supporters of a $2.4 billion plan to rebuild Baltimore's crumbling schools made a show of support in
Teachers, students, parents and others described deplorable conditions in city schools — ranging from disgusting bathrooms and broken windows to stifling classrooms and inadequate computer labs — as they called upon lawmakers to provide the resources to rebuild the state's oldest school buildings.
"We're not asking for charity. We're not asking for a handout," said Yasmene Mumby, co-chairwoman of the Baltimore Education Coalition, which organized the rally. "We're asking to use existing state funds to renovate and reconstruct our school buildings efficiently, effectively and in a smarter way."
It was one of the largest rallies in Annapolis this year, appearing to rival a pro-gun-rights event earlier this month. Organizers said more than 3,000 people signed up for bus rides to the school construction event.
Joseph Reichelt, a fourth-grader at
"To do that, I need great computers and great computer labs," Reichelt said. "That's why I want you to get on the Block Grant Express" — a reference to the guaranteed annual payments the city is seeking to launch its 10-year reconstruction plan.
Among those introduced as "passengers" aboard the express were House Speaker
Brown said the state can't take a "Band-Aid approach" to renovating city schools. "We need to rebuild Baltimore's crumbling schools, and we need to do it now," he said.
Not yet fully on board is Gov.
The legislation faces tough scrutiny because it represents a departure from the way Maryland has traditionally funded school construction in the counties and Baltimore. Currently, the governor proposes a set amount of money to be used statewide, based on what is available in a given year. The money is then allocated to the 24 jurisdictions by a school construction commission.
The city is asking to be guaranteed a minimum annual block grant of $32 million — less than it has been receiving in recent years — so it can use that fixed funding stream to issue $1.1 billion in bonds to pay for the first half of the 10-year plan. The city plans to match the state contribution with revenue from a bottle tax.