Ehrlich begins pivot to education issues
Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) turned his attention to education on Thursday, visiting a program in Baltimore that taps senior citizens as mentors for elementary school students.
"We're obviously turned on by programs that work," Ehrlich said as he wrapped up his visit to Hilton Elementary School, where he poked his head in several classrooms and met in a break room with nearly two dozen of the volunteers. "For relatively few dollars, you get big results."
Ehrlich's observation of the school's Experience Corps program marked a shift in focus in his comeback campaign to an issue on which more voters trust Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), according to a Washington Post poll last month. In the poll, 49 percent of voters said they trust O'Malley to do a better job with public education, while 29 percent gave the nod to Ehrlich.
Ehrlich has dwelled primarily on small business issues during the first two months of his campaign and plans to release policy proposals in that area next week, based on a series of visits to companies that have struggled during the economic recession.
Thursday's visit was an attempt to get a head start on Ehrlich's next area of concentration, which will include more school visits in coming weeks. Hilton Elementary has a primarily African-American student body. Administrators said about 80 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, a indicator of poverty.
The school is one of 20 in Baltimore that takes part in Experience Corps, a national program that preliminary research has shown yields positive results both for the students it serves and the seniors who offer their services in exchange for a modest stipend.
"I can't imagine a school not needing it," Ehrlich said in the break room, as the volunteers relayed stories about bonding with students, benefiting from the interactions themselves and recruiting their friends.
O'Malley aides pointed out that O'Malley has been a booster of the program since his days as mayor of Baltimore. At a 2005 news conference announcing more funding for the program, O'Malley said that the presence of the senior citizens in schools is "incalculably important to our kids' success," according to a Baltimore Sun account.
In Baltimore, principals decide whether to opt into the program. For a cost of $20,000, they get 15 to 18 volunteers who pledge to work at least 15 hour a week during the school year, aiding teachers and coaching students.
Funding for the program also comes from AmeriCorps, a federal community service program launched under President Bill Clinton, the city of Baltimore and various foundations.
Ehrlich said he would consider investing additional state dollars in the program if he is elected governor. He said he would also use the office of governor to help recruit more volunteers.
June 3, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Elections , John Wagner
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