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O'Malley pledges $1 billion to build schools, echoing '06 race against Ehrlich

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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged Wednesday to spend an additional $1 billion on public school construction if elected to a second term, returning to an issue he raised early in his 2006 campaign against then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

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"We have made big investments, even in the toughest of times . . . but our work is far from over," said O'Malley (D), standing outside the same elementary school in Annapolis where he promised four years ago to spend significantly more on school construction than had Ehrlich (R).

Since O'Malley took office in 2007, the legislature has approved almost $1.3 billion in state spending on school construction, about $460 million more than it did under Ehrlich, who is trying to win the job back from O'Malley this fall.

Although O'Malley's new plan could result in less spending during a second term than during his first, he pledged to continue to meet a target of at least $250 million a year set in 2004 by a high-profile state commission.

O'Malley also offered several ideas to make schools more energy-efficient and less costly, including relying more on standardized designs.

After the event, Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth knocked the Democratic incumbent for "once more promising to spend money he doesn't have and would have to borrow." Barth declined to say how much Ehrlich would spend on school construction if elected.

O'Malley's proposal represented his latest attempt to capitalize on education, an issue on which more voters trust him than Ehrlich, according to a Washington Post poll. In the May survey, 49 percent of voters said they trust O'Malley to do a better job with public education, while 29 percent favored Ehrlich.

Aides have played up O'Malley's recent recognition by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers lobby, as the "Greatest Education Governor." The NEA credited O'Malley with largely avoiding the deep education cuts that other states have endured during the recession. The governor also routinely touts a No. 1 ranking given to Maryland schools by Education Week magazine.

Ehrlich has not shied away from the issue of education, however. On the day he announced his comeback campaign in April, he called for doubling the number of charter schools in Maryland, which now stands at 42. Ehrlich visited several of those in recent weeks, including one in Baltimore on Thursday with his new running mate, former Maryland secretary of state Mary D. Kane.

Ehrlich, who authored the state's charter schools law in 2003, has also proposed removing the veto power that local school boards have over new charters in their jurisdictions.

Ehrlich spent Wednesday morning campaigning in Grasonville, where he met with watermen angry about O'Malley's oyster regulations, among other issues.

O'Malley's choice of location for his education event Wednesday was hardly an accident: A school is under construction adjacent to the site.

Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen (D), who attended O'Malley's event, said it is the first public school construction project in Annapolis in almost 40 years.

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