Howard County executive candidate Courtney Watson on Tuesday unveiled her education platform, a 17-point plan that seeks to expand funding for some current programs and bring new ones, including the International Baccalaureate program and tech business partnerships, to the county.
"The school system drives Howard County's success in so many ways, from educating children to property values, which maintain our neighborhoods and safe streets and public safety, to driving employers to locate here. Everything else is on the back of the school system... the way the school system goes, Howard County goes, and I think that's why it's important to have someone who will prioritize education in the county executive's office," Watson, a Democrat who serves on the County Council, said of the platform.
The announcement comes about a week after state Sen. Allan Kittleman, Watson's Republican opponent in the county executive race, rolled out his education plan, a nine-point platform that promised not to cut education funding and emphasized a need to address inequities outside of the school system.
Watson's plan opts to focus on the county's interaction with the school system. Her first proposal is to create an education liaison between county government and the public school system, the Board of Education, Howard Community College and the library system.
The platform also highlights technology as both teaching tool and classroom subject. Watson envisions using Howard's connection on the new Intercounty Broadband Network to expand distance learning by creating the possibility for students at schools across the county to tune in to a course only available at another school or at the community college.
Watson said she would also recruit local businesses to partner with the school system in order to create tech mentorships and hands-on experience for students outside of school, as well as work with the community college to expand higher education and workforce training programs in coveted domains like health care and cybersecurity.
Watson's platform registers support for global learning initiatives: She would like to bring the International Baccalaureate program, an internationally recognized curriculum, to Howard and she said she'd support funding to expand the Model Schools pilot, currently implemented at a handful of schools in the county.
Watson's other priorities include extending afterschool transportation service to all 20 middle schools in the county, establishing a "student enrichment fund" within the county grants program to target fundraising disparities among booster clubs and supporting the expansion of pre-K programs in the county, through both the school system and community providers.
Watson's platform also addresses concerns about school overcrowding, pledging to provide financial support to build a new high school and additional elementary schools "as called for by the Board of Education," as well as to acquire new school sites for the future. She also emphasizes "maximinz[ing] existing resources" by looking at creating regional pre-K and kindergarten programs and dual usage of under-enrolled school buildings in the west.
Watson's platform notes her term on the school board from 2002 to 2006 and previous work as an activist in support of new school construction.