Within hours of Governor Larry Hogan's decision to veto the "Blueprint for Maryland's Future," Board of Education Candidate Lynne Harris was talking with key advocates about what's next for the state's effort to ensure educational excellence and make our students competitive nationally and internationally. Here's that interview, and Lynne's thoughts about why this plan is so important for our schools and our students.
Like many MCPS and public education advocates, I’ve been following the work of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (the “Kirwan Commission” after it’s chair – Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan) since it was formed in legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2016.
The bipartisan Commission worked for three years, with a mandate to intensively study national and international best practices around educational excellence, and then make recommendations for action steps to transform Maryland’s public schools into a premiere, world class educational system whose students are globally competitive.
But let’s not forget WHY the General Assembly formed the Commission in the first place. In 2015 the State engaged APA Consulting to take an in-depth look at public education in Maryland. The goal of this study was to determine how much money to give to each student (“per-pupil funding”) in order for them to achieve the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards. In addition to per-pupil funding, the study also calculated additional funding for students with special needs: students receiving special education services, students with limited English proficiency, and low-income students. Among other things their report, “Study on Adequacy of Funding for Education in the State of Maryland,” concluded that Maryland is underfunding its’ schools by approximately $2.9 billion.
The Kirwan Commission used that report as the springboard for their work. They issued several reports - interim and final – to provide required updates as their work moved forward. The Kirwan Commission’s meetings were open, and the Commission members also traveled around the State, engaging with community members and soliciting input.
The result – a massive report, identifying five key priorities, with evidence-based action steps. The General Assembly reviewed the Commission’s finding, and incorporated them into a piece of legislation, known as “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” aka Blueprint.
A few bits of the Blueprint were passed through the General Assembly in 2019, including Concentration of Poverty grants to help Maryland’s 24 public school systems implement the Community Schools model (an evidence-based approach to closing the opportunity and achievement gaps for students living in poverty). The lion’s share of the Blueprint was the major priority for the General Assembly in the 2020 session, which was shortened by the Coronavirus pandemic response.
Of note – the General Assembly knew both that Maryland needs to step up to our obligation to fund public schools in a big way if we are going to become a first tier school system nationally and internationally. The General Assembly also knew it was legislating in a time of crisis, so incorporated funding adjustments into the bill, to be triggered according to the strength of Maryland’s post-Covid economy. The Blueprint passed both the Maryland House and Senate with veto proof majorities – a pretty strong demonstration of the bipartisan nature of Maryland’s commitment to educational excellence.
Sadly, on the last day for taking action of legislation passed during the 2020 session, the governor vetoed the Blueprint, along with many other key pieces of legislation – public safety, gun safety, funding for HBCUs and on. It also – by default – rescinded the “Built to Learn Act” – a major school construction initiative that the governor allowed previously allowed to go into effect – because Built to Learn was tied to Blueprint – if Blueprint didn’t pass, Built to Learn didn’t go into effect. The governor also vetoed every measure passed by the General Assembly to fund the Blueprint.
Keep in mind – the Blueprint is a 10-year plan, not a one-year rush. And every investment in education has both long and short term benefits for everyone, and for our state’s economy. The Blueprint investments would pay for themselves in the long run.
We are learning a lot about education in a time of crisis right now. We will need strong, evidence based strategies and plans to address learning recovery, and quite possibly the need to continue infection control measures like social distancing, once schools reopen. And of course the governor’s vetoes are not necessarily the last word.