As state, feds home in on education, county must step up

Community Times

There's nothing that raises the interest-level — and emotions — of parents and politicians more than the quality of education offered Baltimore County children. It's THE hot-button issue.

That explains why the final weeks of the Maryland General Assembly session, which ended Monday night at midnight, were dominated by an angry battle over giving more, or less, power to the Maryland State Board of Education.

Gov. Larry Hogan wanted to create a special panel with the authority to approve dozens of charter schools without local school board involvement.

Hogan is an ardent believer in schooling options — charters, privately run public schools, vouchers so poor kids have a choice and parochial aid to let kids bypass public schools for religiously run facilities.

He even broached the notion of a state takeover of failing schools — even though the state lacks the personnel and expertise to undertake such an expensive and perilous mission.

Hogan's efforts come on top of the selection by President Trump of a charter-school zealot, Betsy DeVos, as the U.S. secretary of education. She has been one of the most ardent advocates for doing away with public schools as they now exist.

Her views pretty much match President Trump's, too.

All of that alarmed and panicked Democrats in Annapolis, who control the state legislature.

They responded by passing a bill restricting the powers of the state education board, which is increasingly dominated by Hogan appointees who agree with his privatization views.

Democrats effectively reined in the state board by forbidding the panel from stripping powers from local school boards. They weren't going to let Hogan force counties to see their public schools depleted of the best and brightest students while the state sends in private, for-profit companies to run the remaining, failing schools.

Hogan responded with angry outbursts, calling the bill "outrageous and irresponsible." He threatened to veto the bill, but Democrats outmaneuvered him.

As promised, he rejected the bill only to see the legislature promptly vote to override that veto and place the Protect Our Schools Act of 2017 on the books.

Ironically, the new law that liberal Democrats championed is a conservative step aimed at preserving local control of one of local government's most important responsibilities — public education.

Hogan, though a staunch conservative, finds himself in this fight attempting to overrule local autonomy on education matters, just as he did when he ordered all local school systems to start the academic year after Labor Day.

DeVos and Trump, meanwhile, want to force localities to sanction many more charter schools, vouchers for kids living in poor neighborhoods and privatization.

No wonder Democrats in Annapolis were in a panic. They acted forcefully to come to the defense of locally controlled public schools.

Hogan claims the Democrats' law could cost Maryland $250 million in federal funds under an education improvement plan the state must submit to Washington.

But he's not telling us the whole story.

Trump already has issued an executive order that essentially guts the education improvement plan put in place by the Obama administration.

The problem with underperforming schools isn't limited to poor jurisdictions like Baltimore City and Prince George's County, either.

Achievement test scores at county schools such as Owings Mills Elementary and Reisterstown Elementary are abysmal and have been for years.

That more hasn't been done by the local school board and county executive is a question voters need to start asking.

Educating our children has long been a local responsibility. But it won't remain that way if county leaders continue to drag their feet in bringing improved education to schools throughout the county.

Barry Rascovar's blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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