Washington — Maryland's congressional delegation has voiced strong support for a sweeping plan to reform the state's educational system.
The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has been investigating how to improve Maryland's public schools for more than two years.
In a meeting in the House on Tuesday with some of the state's congressional delegation, commission chairman William E. "Brit" Kirwan, former president of the University of Maryland, College Park and former chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said the state's educational system is "mediocre" and more needs to be done to strengthen it.
"We are at a huge crossroads moment for our state," Kirwan said. "One of the hurdles we have to overcome is the complacency about the quality of our education."
One problem the commission has identified is insufficient financial support for schools located in low-income areas.
"We just aren't investing enough money as other states and other countries do in these schools," Kirwan said.
The commission is recommending expanding access to high-quality preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and career and technical education for high schoolers.
Another top concern of the commission is the high turnover rate for teachers in the state. According to Kirwan, 47 percent of second-year teachers do not return for a third year.
Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, said "elevating the profession of teaching as a high profession with adequate training and compensation" is imperative to improving the quality of education in the state.
The commission is currently requesting $3.8 billion for the necessary improvements. Cardin said this money would be phased in over a 10-year period in a "fiscally responsible manner."
Kirwan said he expects the Maryland General Assembly to address several of the commission's findings in the coming weeks. No significant legislation, though, is expected until next year's legislative session as the commission continues to work through the fall of 2019.
Kirwan said the leaders of the Maryland General Assembly are committed to considering legislation that implements the recommendations of the commission.
The delegation members made it clear that they consider education reform one of their highest priorities at the state and federal level.
"I think implementing the recommendations of the Kirwan commission [has] to be the top, number one priority of the state," Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Baltimore, said "the greatest threat to our national security is our failure to properly educate every single one of our children."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Mechanicsville, said in a statement that "we must ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed, from early childhood education through secondary education."
"It is critically important that we bolster school readiness and college and career readiness as well as address disparities for students of color and students in low-income communities," Hoyer added. "The delegation is committed to supporting the implementation of Dr. Kirwan's recommendations and working with local leaders and stakeholders to improve public education in our state."