Students stage die-in against school cuts

By Kimberly Snowden

ANNAPOLIS, Md.--Busloads of Baltimore City youth and supporters rallied and staged a mock die-in at the statehouse on February 6 to protest Gov. Martin O'Malley's cuts in education funding.

The actions were organized by the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP), a student-run tutoring and civil rights organization, and reflected outrage at the broken promises of the governor and the General Assembly. Activists connected the poor state of education in the city with the violent crime that recently took the life of BAP member Zachariah Hallback, who was shot in a robbery last month.

High school and college students and supporters who spoke at the rally made the case that inadequate education funding has led to juvenile crime. "We are identifying this place as a crime scene," organizer Christopher Goodman told protesters, who gathered before a bronze statue of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. "Every year that they underfund our schools, they kill us."

Twenty-five members of BAP and its supporters were detained by police when they brought a mock coffin up the steps of the statehouse to present to Gov. O'Malley. The coffin was represented the social death of people who are denied a decent education. A photo of Hallback was appeared on the coffin. No charges were filed against any of the participants.

Students demanded that O'Malley be arrested for refusing to address historic underfunding of Maryland public schools. For years, BAP has been involved in a lawsuit charging the state with unlawfully underfunding Baltimore's schools. Despite a court ruling that found the state had underfunded the schools by $400 million to $800 million between 2000 and 2004, state officials have failed to comply.

Students loudly chanted BAP's slogan throughout the demonstration, "No Education, No Life!"

As mayor of Baltimore, O'Malley met with BAP students and urged them "to hold the governor accountable" for failing to follow court orders, claiming that the state should "immediately pay the $800 million" owed.

Now that he is governor, O'Malley is backpedaling, proposing an additional $50 million in cuts to Baltimore's schools. BAP estimates that, by now, the state owes the school system at least $1 billion.

"They're taking away money, which is taking away education, which is basically taking away life," explained 17-year-old Arnisha Owens, a student at Baltimore City College, a public high school.

As Marylin Shaw, a BAP student organizer, said, "It's time for us to stand up. Young people don't think they have a voice and realize that they have power. But they do."