Gloomy, frustrated Maryland education leaders, ready to do battle with the budget-cutting Reagan administration, gathered in a basement corridor of the Capitol one afternoon recently to launch their campaign.

As they waited to plead their cause before the Maryland congressional delegation, they spoke of the serious task facing this unusual and hastily formed amalgam of union and management, parents and teachers, state and local leaders. Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) called it a "crusade."

Last spring, education leaders rallied in the state capital, Annapolis, but efforts to fight federal budget cutbacks were crippled by the speed with which the cuts came ("Nobody believed it was going to happen so fast," said State Board of Education President Joanne T. Goldsmith) and by ignorance of what the cuts would mean to them.

Now they know. The 1982 budget rescissions and the proposed 1983 budget, which President Reagan laid before Congress last month, would take more than $70 million away from Maryland schools, libraries and vocational rehabilitation programs. Almost all of it would come from programs for "special populations" for whom these federal services were tailored: the handicapped, the poor, the children of military families.

Most severely affected would be "Title One" programs that provide extra educational help to children who live in poor neighborhoods and who are behind in school. Services to 23,000 Maryland pupils would end, state officials say, and 1,200 teachers and aides would be laid off.

Special education services, currently going to 8,400 handicapped children, 5,700 preschoolers and infants, and 2,200 severely handicapped students in residential facilties, would be cut back by $6.6 million, or 27 percent, according to the state Department of Education.

Under the proposed budget cuts, 30,000 fewer children would receive breakfasts, 10,700 fewer children would get meals in child care programs and 22,000 fewer children would get meals in summer programs, officials say. This year 95,000 fewer Maryland students received school lunches and 13,250 fewer students received breakfasts because of budget cuts last year.

State officials say it is impossible for the state to compensate for such losses; they are unable to say what percentage of the burden they might try to assume. "Unless there is an enormous upswing in the economy, we don't have any resources which we can simply plug in to fill federal gaps," said Sheila Tolliver, education officer for Gov. Harry Hughes.

With this in mind, Hornbeck said, the education leaders came to Capitol Hill "to spread some pure, unadulterated fact in front of the delegation." Three days later, at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, they met with local union leaders, teachers, parents, administrators and local school board chairmen, to fuel enthusiasm, discuss tactics and stress the need for unity in the fight against the cutbacks.

"It really is a unified coalition of the education community," declared State Superintendent David W. Hornbeck. "It's unusual for these groups to agree so much--and it's not a fragile agreement."

Combined, Maryland's 24 boards of education, 950 PTAs, 40,000 teachers and their unions, 700,000 students and their parents, and 40,000 disabled children and adults benefitting from education money could form a powerful force.

They are supported by the large national associations, like the National Education Association, the National Association of Chief State School Officers, the National School Boards Association and the National Association of State Boards of Education, which come complete with professional lobbyists and "congressional assault teams" composed of association members assigned to monitor and lobby specific members of Congress.

These groups try to organize educators in local jurisdictions, and have sent letters, telegrams and representatives around the country suggesting tactics and providing basic information about how Congress and the administration make their budget decisions.

Spokesmen for the national organizations say the Marylanders are taking a national lead in the fight against cutbacks in federal education funding. Goldsmith is the vice president of the National Association of State Boards of Education and Hornbeck is chairman of the National Association of Chief State School Officers' legislative committee.

Like the national groups, the Maryland coalition of education interests is calling for unity in the face of adversity.

"We feel that one of the objects of the Reagan program is to pit the special education people against the TAG (Talented and Gifted) people, and pit labor against management, and the libraries against the food service, and that sort of thing, in the hopes that we'll eat each other up," said John Sisson, president of the Prince George's County National Educators' Association.

"The idea behind this effort is that we not eat each other up, and protect our unity and break the Reagan administration's agenda."

J. David Eberly, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, which only last week emerged from months of acrimonious contract negotiations with the county school board, said a bargain had been struck with the board.

"We made an agreement that we'd cooperate--in this realm--and that we were willing to put aside these usual disagreements," he said. The school board and union members, along with other interested county groups, held their first strategy meeting this week.

If Montgomery County tried to pay for the $5.6 million in federal education aid it would lose in the next two years under Reagan's proposals, the property tax (half of which already goes to education) would have to go up from $2.27 per $100 of valuation to $2.33, according to state officials. Prince George's would have to raise its current $2.60 rate to $2.75 to make up for the $18.4 million it would lose.

Prince George's could not do it because property tax revenues are limited by the county charter. The Prince George's County Council of PTAs, worried by this prospect, has said it plans to launch a petition drive this week to amend the charter. In the meantime, it is circulating a petition protesting the federal cuts, which it will present to the Maryland congressional delegation.

State education leaders say they are encouraged by indications that the tide is turning in their favor. They note that many leading Republicans have spoken out against Reagan's budget proposals and that 23 members of the Senate Appropriations Committee sent a letter to the president last month protesting proposed cuts in student loans.

"Some of our congressmen have not been very receptive in the past, but they seem to be more so now," Goldsmith said. "I suppose it's the pressure they've been getting." Dena Stoner of the National School Boards Association said this pressure should increase substantially when members of Congress return to their districts for the Easter holidays.

With six of the state's 10 members of Congress given a 100 percent pro-education rating by national education organizations, much of the lobbying will be focused on Reps. Beverly Byron (D-Western Maryland), Clarence Long (D-Baltimore) and Roy Dyson (D-Eastern Maryland), who are given less-than-perfect ratings, and most of all on the state's sole Republican member of Congress, Rep. Marjorie Holt of Anne Arundel County.

"I feel a little like being in church right now," Superintendent Hornbeck said when he met with Reps. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Baltimore) and Steny Hoyer (D-Prince George's). "The souls that need saving are not present."