Friday, February 3, 2023

Maryland’s next governor and public education


(Correction: An earlier version said the Republican gubernatorial candidates did not answer the Post’s questionnaire. Three of the four did not; Robin Ficker did.)

Virginia’s gubernatorial campaign last year made national headlines when Republican Glenn Youngkin ran and won with the platform of a conservative culture warrior: giving “power” to parents in education, limiting what teachers can say about race and racism, banning books about sensitive issues. He has stayed in the spotlight with practices such as setting up a controversial “tip line” so parents can report teachers who are supposedly promoting “divisive practices.”

Maryland’s current political campaign for a new governor has failed to garner the same kind of national attention that Virginia’s did — even with one Republican candidate who featured “parents rights” legislation in her first campaign advertisement and another GOP candidate who the state’s current leader, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), called a “QAnon wackjob.”

But the consequences of the election are no less important for the state than they were in Virginia. The results will affect the implementation of historic legislation passed last year to transform public education and child care over a decade, as well as the near future of school “choice” and other issues affecting young people.

Voters are now engaged in early voting before Tuesday’s primary ballot at a time when teacher morale across the country is at its lowest in decades. Some Maryland districts, including Prince George’s County, are struggling with teacher shortages and recruitment for the fall; educators have reported an increase in student mental health issues; mass shootings at schools around the nation have increased security concerns; and new coronavirus variants threaten a new wave of infections this fall.

The central school reform program in Maryland is the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, landmark 2021 legislation passed over Hogan’s veto and designed to overhaul K-12 public education and child care over the next decade. It calls for increasing education funding by $3.8 billion each year over the next 10 years — but whether all of the funding will be approved remains a question. Maryland now has a projected budget surplus of $7.6 billion by the end of 2023 — but the blueprint has funding only through 2026 or 2027.

There are 10 Democratic gubernatorial candidates on the primary ballot: Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot; Wes Moore, former nonprofit executive, author and combat veteran; former U.S. education secretary John B. King Jr.; former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez; former Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler; former Prince George’s county executive Rushern L. Baker III, who suspended his campaign last month; former government worker and nonprofit executive Jon Baron; Ralph W. Jaffe, a retired teacher; Ashwani Jain, a local program director for the National Kidney Foundation; and Jerome M. Segal, a philosopher and activist.

There are four Republican gubernatorial candidates running in the primary: Kelly M. Schulz, a former Hogan administration official who is being supported by the governor; Del. Daniel L. Cox, who was endorsed by former president Donald Trump and whom Hogan called “a QAnon wackjob”; disbarred lawyer and perennial candidate Robin Ficker; and lawyer Joe Werner. Polls show Schulz and Cox leading the Republican field.

On the Democratic side, the latest polls show that Moore, Franchot and Perez are statistically tied for the lead or the leading three. If Moore — who has been leading the Democratic candidates for a few months in fundraising — were to win, he would be the first African American to be governor in Maryland; if Perez won, he would be the state’s first Latino governor.

The Washington Post asked the candidates how they would change the blueprint, and you can see the responses here. While most of the candidates support it, each would change or add to parts of it. Moore was an early booster, testifying before the state legislature urging its passage. Franchot has in the past opposed the blueprint, instead offering changes to curriculum and other measures. Asked where he stands now, his campaign said in an email that he “will fund and implement” the legislation “as passed” — suggesting there is no guarantee he will continue to support funding in later years.

The Post also asked the candidates whether they support having school resource officers on campuses. Saying yes were Baron, Franchot, Gansler and Ficker. King, Jain and Segal said no. Perez and Moore did not respond. The Republican gubernatorial candidates did not respond to The Post.

Each of the leading candidates has nabbed endorsements from state and federal legislators and others; Perez won the endorsements of The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun editorial departments.

But when it comes to education, the coveted endorsement in the state comes from the Maryland State Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, with 76,000 members. Although there is a former U.S. education secretary in the mix, Moore, the former chief executive of the poverty-fighting Robin Hood Foundation who is running for political office for the first time, won the endorsement.

Democratic hopefuls answered 20-page questionnaires and then spoke to union members at a spring assembly. The Republican nominees did not accept invitations to appear at the assembly. A union nominating committee voted for Moore, who according to union President Cheryl Bost, won the endorsement because he listened to educators.

“Wes led in listening to our concerns and incorporating those issues into his platform, such as understanding education support professionals’ needs, recruiting educators of color, supporting class size as a subject of bargaining, and providing more resources for students that need the most help,” Bost said in an email on Tuesday.

“All of the candidates talk about these things now, but Wes was early and reacted to the educators’ voices,” she said. “He was hearing and meeting with us, and it made people feel seen, valued, and appreciated at a time when educators have been under right-wing attacks just for doing their jobs.”

Maryland elections: Here’s where the gubernatorial candidates stand

Three of the Democratic candidates worked for the Obama administration, but former president Barack Obama has not endorsed anyone in the primary (though Perez has campaign ads that showcase quotes from Obama praising him). Perez served as labor secretary and King as education secretary, while Obama appointed Moore to the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

At the union’s April assembly, Franchot’s speech generated a lot of conversation among participants, some said, because he promised something highly unusual. Franchot told teachers, among things, that he would reduce standardized testing by 90 percent, and reduce class size to 20 students per teacher — both difficult and costly to enact. But it was a promise that he would ensure that teachers get early boarding on airplanes at the state-run Baltimore-Washington Airport that surprised union members. The campaign said that it was a way to help underappreciated teachers feel empowered in “all areas of their live” and “is a small token of gratitude from the state.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, Maryland voters have indicated in a recent survey that education is a key concern for them — and the fallout from school closures during the pandemic has made the issue even more important. Maryland schools were among the last to reopen after the pandemic closed buildings nationwide in March 2020, and teachers have reported a rise in student mental health issues and discipline problems. Most told Post reporter Donna St. George recently that schools still don’t have enough staffing and student supports.

Behavioral issues, absenteeism at schools increase, federal data shows

For its 2022 voting guide, the Baltimore Sun asked the candidates one education question: What should Maryland schools do differently during the next pandemic? The three leading candidates responded this way:

Moore promised a “better health respond” that can “keep students safely in the classroom” and provide “our educators with the resources needed to support students’ social-emotional needs.”

Perez said he would expand access to broadband, and “spearhead policies that bolster our state’s educational resiliency by expanding the opportunity for schools to offer year-round learning and alternative school schedules, integrating after-school and summer programming into the existing educational systems, and allowing optional additional grades to address learning loss.”

Franchot promised to provide “every citizen in Maryland” with “high-speed broadband and 5G wireless technology” and have the state “work with schools to provide wraparound services like school lunches, computers, and child-care assistance.” He also said “we must better communicate plans for testing and thresholds for returning to in person learning, as well as better supply teachers with PPE [personal protective equipment].”

Schulz and Cox haven’t talked much about the blueprint and aren’t expected to be supporters of the expensive changes.

The Washington Blade, which covers gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender news, asked candidates about their views regarding LGBTQ rights. All of the Democratic candidates said they supported them; Schulz, the Blade said, did not respond to the question. Cox has said he would want to legally restrict what he called “classroom indoctrination” about gender identity in grades K-3.

One issue that has had little discussion in the race but that is part of the national debate about the future of public education is charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — and whether Maryland should have more of them.

While some of the more than 40 states that have charter schools have hundreds of them, Maryland has about 50 — most of them in Baltimore — under a state charter school law that bars full-time virtual charters and allows only local boards of education to grant a charter to nonprofit organizations seeking to open such a school. Charter supporters would like to see the law liberalized, while critics worry that an expansion will funding from school districts, which has happened in some other states.

Moore has said he does not want to see an expansion of charters but wants to ensure accountability for current charters, and wants to focus resources on improving public school districts that educate most Maryland children. Franchot’s campaign said the candidate “supports school choice and charter schools” and “will ensure that charter schools have proper accountability measures in place and implement best practices.” Perez’s campaign did not indicate whether he would seek to expand the number of charter schools, saying that “he will stand against any attempt to lower standards and decrease accountability at charter schools.” As secretary, King, who is now the head of a nonpartisan nonprofit education organization, supported Obama’s controversial education agenda, which included the expansion of charter schools and evaluating teachers by student test scores.

Schulz, who has said she wants to expand the number of charter schools, made “parental rights” the focus of her first campaign ad, promising more transparency in schools so parents know what their children are learning. She told WBFF Fox45 Baltimore: “We want to make sure parents know they are empowered, that they have the power to be able to have their children’s instruction and curriculum be based on the belief of the family.” How that would work in a public school is unclear.