What the Algebra Project was protesting
I hate to put down my competitors at other media outlets, but this line in the Associated Press story about today's Baltimore Algebra Project protest in Annapolis made me laugh:
"It was unclear what exactly the students were protesting. They mentioned cuts to an educational funding formula known as Thornton, possibly referring to a phase-in to a portion of that formula. Others mentioned protesting a recent Baltimore City Schools proposal to pay students for high test scores."
Ruma covered the protest -- which resulted in two dozen arrests -- for The Sun (her story will be in tomorrow's paper; an early version is here). But I have been following the Algebra Project for awhile and can provide a bit of context about what the fuss is about. I hope that all of the students who got out of school yesterday to take a field trip to Annapolis also understand what they were supposed to be fighting for.
The Algebra Project is a civil rights organization. Its members believe that education is the fundamental civil rights issue of our time. Its slogan is "No Education, No Life" because members believe that when our society fails to provide children with an adequate education, it's equivalent to giving them a death sentence. For years, the Algebra Project has been involved in a lawsuit charging the state with unlawfully underfunding Baltimore's schools. Its members have taken officials to task for failing to comply with a court ruling that found the state had unlawfully underfunded the city schools by $400 million to $800 million between 2000 and 2004. The group estimates that, by now, the state owes the school system at least $1 billion.
Making matters worse, Gov. Martin O'Malley -- who as mayor met with the Algebra Project and supported its quest for more state funding -- has now frozen the inflationary increases provided to school systems under the Thornton legislation (a statewide education funding initiative that grew out of the school funding lawsuit in the city). In Baltimore, that freeze will amount to a $50 million budget shortfall for next school year.
So all that was reason enough to protest. And then last month, Zachariah Hallback -- an 18-year-old Algebra Project member who had planned on participating in the "die-in" today -- was murdered, the victim of a foiled robbery attempt. To his Algebra Project colleagues, his death represented exactly why they are fighting, because when young people don't get a decent education, it's all too easy for them to turn to a life of crime instead.
UPDATE: For more info on the cool protest photo above, plus a link to more protest pictures, check out this post on the Photo Edge blog.