First Click, Maryland -- Summer school for Ehrlich campaign
Your morning download of Maryland political news
Thursday, June 24, 2010:
While most Maryland students are done with school until fall, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) is hoping parents tune in to a summer series of education policy announcements by his campaign that he says will spark innovation and improve Maryland schools.
Summertime distractions aside, it may be a tough sell in any season.
From Gov. Martin O'Malley on down, members of Maryland's Democratic majority regularly tout the state's No. 1 school ranking in Education Week magazine as evidence that its public schools are doing well, and that no leadership change in Annapolis is required.
This week, however, it's been clear that Ehrlich has retained the support of at least a small, but vocal number of parents and educators unsatisfied with restrictions limiting growth in the number of Maryland charter schools.
Doubling Maryland's number of charter schools was one of the very first things Ehrlich talked about in April when he announced plans to seek a rematch with O'Malley.
This week, he sketched out a plan to reach that goal, saying he would push the state's General Assembly to take chartering authority away from local school boards; increase construction funding; and seek to remove requirements that unions represent charter school teachers through collective bargaining.
"As long as one student is stuck in a failing school, that's one too many," Ehrlich said.
Complicating Ehrlich's argument is the fact that Maryland charter schools have doubled in number under O'Malley. There are now 42 and a handful more expected to open in the fall.
It's not just about the number for Ehrlich, however, and it became clear this week that he thinks the task of making the issue resonate with voters will be at least threefold:
In a roundtable with parents and in interviews with television and print journalists, Ehrlich has seemed intent on reminding voters that the number of charter schools would have never grown under O'Malley without the legislation he negotiated with Democrats in 2003 to create them. Second, he said, voters need to realize that that legislation is no longer adequate, and that Democrats need to drop demands they made in negotiating the seven-year-old legislation that gave unions and local school boards powerful sway over the state's charter schools. Third, Ehrlich seemed to want to tie his reform ideas loosely to those of President Obama's Race to the Top, saying demanding more from public schools and improving education is a nonpartisan issue.
He also seemed to want to undermine O'Malley's contention that he supports charter schools at all. One exchange that was perhaps the most telling in recent months was O'Malley's waffling over whether charter schools were even public schools in a meeting with The Washington Post's editorial board.
"However well our charters school act is, it's not an excuse to fix our public schools. I believe in fixing public schools," O'Malley said.
An editorial writer interrupted, challenging O'Malley, "but charters are public schools."
"Yes, and no," O'Malley said, pausing, "yes, and no, because they are, I mean, they are publics schools in a sense. But if they were public schools in the sense, um, uh, .. they're independently operated. And well, you know how they are different from" public schools.
"I really don't," the writer shot back. "They're operated with public funds, on a lottery system and can't exclude students."
"Yes, and they operate under separate management systems and they are a little bit different," O'Malley said. "But they provide a good sort of catalyst and a way to infuse the larger system with good ideas."
Parents and teachers of the state's 11,000 students who attend charters are clearly passionate about them. The schools are also important to the dozens who have tried and failed to convince local school boards to open more. (Ehrlich met on Tuesday with a handful of disgruntled parents in Montgomery County, which recently rejected two more proposals for charter schools. The county has yet to approve a single one).
But largely, charter schools remain a niche and Ehrlich seems to have a long summer ahead of schooling voters on exactly why they should care.
News You Should Know
State probes extortion claims
"The Maryland state prosecutor's office has launched an investigation into allegations that several elected officials and politically connected operatives in Prince George's County tried to shake down a developer who wanted to lease space to a county agency, according to a source familiar with the state probe," writes The Post's Ovetta Wiggins. "Jonathan S. Shurberg, an attorney for developer Arun Luthra, said his client received a subpoena about a week ago to testify before a grand jury July 1."
Maryland government makes a leap online
"It's one of the wonkiest and most powerful creations in Maryland politics and if you planned to claim a seat -- or even a spot leaning against the wall -- you'd better have arrived early for the twice-monthly marathon sessions of the Board of Public Works. That is, perhaps, until now," writes The Post's Aaron C. Davis. "Beginning next month, the meetings will be streamed live online, meaning that for the first time, Marylanders outside the governor's cramped reception room in Annapolis will get a glimpse of how the state approves and cuts billions each year from its budget. ... House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) also announced plans to make it easier to monitor decision-making when the legislature is in session. As expected, the House will begin streaming standing committee meetings next year. The Senate will also begin airing audio recordings of its committee meetings over the Internet. Audio for full House and Senate sessions is available online."
O'Malley to talk MARC safety
"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will ride a MARC train from the Baltimore area to New Carrollton on Thursday morning to talk with passengers about improving the commuter rail line after a breakdown Monday evening that stranded 900 people in a train without air conditioning in the sweltering late afternoon heat," reports The Post's Katherine Shaver. "Amtrak, MARC and the Federal Railroad Administration said Tuesday that they will investigate what happened and whether a federally required emergency preparedness plan was properly followed."
Ehrlich hits O'Malley on dwindling Md. film industry
"Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) on Wednesday blasted Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision to slash the state's film industry tax credit, which he said was partially responsible for bringing 'The Wire,' 'Homicide,' 'Ladder 49' and other productions to Maryland during his tenure," writes The Post's Aaron C. Davis. "Ehrlich said that if returned to the governor's office, he would restore the annual film credit from $1 million to $7 million. The credit is one of hundreds of areas in which O'Malley has cut the state budget during consecutive years of $1.9 billion shortfalls. 'Cutting this tax credit is no different than cutting jobs,' Ehrlich said. 'It's an expenditure that produces a huge return on a small investment.' "
Kratovil's poll shows him leading rematch with Harris
"Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) is leading in a potential rematch with state Sen. Andy Harris (R) in Maryland's 1st district, according to a new poll conducted for the Democrat's campaign," writes The Post's Ben Pershing. "Kratovil's survey -- conducted among likely voters June 15-16 by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group -- gives him a 44 percent to 39 percent lead over Harris, whom Kratovil beat by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2008. Seventeen percent of respondents were undecided in the poll. The narrowness of Kratovil's victory two years ago and the unusual circumstances behind it -- Harris beat incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest in the GOP primary, and then Gilchrest endorsed Kratovil -- make Republicans believe they can take back this seat in November. It has traditionally tilted toward the GOP, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the district by 19 points in the 2008 presidential campaign, even as President Obama captured the state with ease. The nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report rates the race as "Lean Republican."
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