Gambling With Our Future

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One of the more important issues before members of the Maryland General Assembly this session will be the question of the extensive and costly education recommendations in the Kirwan Commission’s Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The success of our school-age children is a high priority for me as a parent and as a delegate. I have consistently supported innovative programs in public schools, which challenge students, broaden their horizons and reach at-risk students to keep them engaged and attending school through graduation. Last year, I supported the commission’s work to determine a blueprint for education.

Now that we are getting into the recommendations, we all are finding many unanswered questions: How will the yearly $4 billion price tag be paid for? Why were countries and cities (Singapore, Finland, Shanghai, Ontario) with cultures and frameworks very unlike ours used as models that would not work here? The vagueness and uncertainties are concerning. Is the gamble worth it without any guarantee on investment?

Every child in this state deserves a quality education. However, the 10-year, costly Kirwan plan calls for sweeping changes in policy without a clear funding source. And this isn’t the first time Maryland taxpayers are being forced to pay for massive education changes without having a clear understanding of those policy changes and without a mechanism to assess the effectiveness of the new curriculum or other changes. The Thornton Commission was set up in 2002 through legislation called The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act. It increased state funding by more than 120% from $3.1 billion to $6.9 billion annually between Fiscal Year 2003 and Fiscal Year 2020. Although this was an historic increase in spending, eighth-grade math proficiency rates increased by only three percentage points over those years.

I recently had the opportunity to hear testimony from Dr. Brit Kirwan. According to him, all aspects of the commission’s recommendations must be enacted as a whole in order to achieve the intended success. The parts work in tandem and should not be piecemealed due to funding issues. But the money is not there and an economic slowdown is expected. So if the funding is vague, what does that mean? The plan not only is missing funding, but in my opinion, it does not appropriate enough toward mental health issues or accountability. Who provides oversight and determines if money equals help for kids.

The Kirwan Commission recommendations lack strong accountability measures needed to truly improve schools. Without this accountability we cannot protect our students from the failures of the past. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past by moving forward with massive spending increases to education without identifying a proven funding source.

Each year, Governor Larry Hogan’s budget has carved out generous increases to public schools and has proposed expanding options like providing $130 million over two years to fund an expansion of prekindergarten and for health professionals and additional service personnel to be present in schools with high numbers of students from poor families. The governor has also pushed to create an Office of Education Accountability and an independent investigator general to explore allegations of corruption, mismanagement and criminal conduct in Maryland school systems. We need more accountability of the thousands of state employees charged with educating, counseling, transporting, coaching and administrating within the public school system. I support these ideas to give every Maryland student every chance to succeed.

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