Brown supports moratorium on giving MSAs

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony G. Brown said Thursday that Maryland should seek a waiver from the federal government so it won't have to administer outdated standardized tests to students this year.

Speaking at a Baltimore Sun Newsmaker Forum, Brown also came out strongly for decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. But he said Maryland should wait and learn from the experience of other states before moving to full legalization of the drug.

In response to a question, Brown said he's against giving the Maryland School Assessments, which are based on a curriculum that is being replaced.

"I'm not sure it makes sense to use an outdated test," he said.

Brown's position puts him in the rare position of disagreeing with his boss, Gov. Martin O'Malley, and state schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery – both of whom oppose a proposed moratorium on giving the test. A bill introduced in the General Assembly this week would force state education officials to seek a waiver from the federal law that requires the annual standardized tests, which are given in March.

Brown offered the caveat that the state should not forgo the testing unless it receives a waiver, which would be necessary to ensure that Maryland doesn't pay a price in lost federal education aid.

Pressure has been growing on the state to adopt a moratorium on the MSA until the new Common Core curriculum has been fully implemented and replacement tests written to reflect its content.

So far, Lowery has resisted the notion of seeking a waiver. New tests aren't expected to be ready until the 2014-2015 school year.

Some parents and the state teachers union have urged the state to skip the testing this year. The MSA is given each year to students in the third through eighth grades.

On marijuana, Brown took a middle ground between the O'Malley administration's cautious support of the limited medical marijuana program approved last year and the legalization plan offered by Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County, one of Brown's rivals in the June Democratic primary. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler also is running.

Mizeur has called for the regulation and taxation of the distribution of marijuana, contending that the prohibition strategy of the so-called War on Drugs has failed.

Brown did not rule out legalization in the future, but said Maryland should take its time and observe the results of legalization in Colorado and Washington, where voters decided in referendums to allow the regulated sale of the drug.

The lieutenant governor said any plan too decriminalize marijuana, replacing arrests and jail time with civil citations and fines, would need to be accompanied by "stepped-up education" to show young people the state is not condoning the use of the drug.

Pressed by a questioner to apologize for the botched launch of the state's health insurance exchange, Brown demurred.

He gave essentially the same answer he gave to a Senate committee Tuesday – that Marylanders want their leaders to fix the problem, not say they're sorry. Brown was charged with taking the lead for the O'Malley administration in the state's implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act.

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