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Community Voices (Scanlan): Education funding needs to be looked at in an honest, non-partisan way

Let’s make a New Year’s resolution. Let’s agree to be open, honest, and civil with each other. Genuine and principled discussion is especially important when it comes to education and its funding. If there is any portion of our society that should be non-partisan, it is education. Our government is mandated with supplying a free public education for every child. The Board of Education is non-partisan for a reason, so why do Republicans insist upon politicizing education?

Case in point is the issue of the school calendar. Republicans love to pretend that starting school after Labor Day is a Republican idea. They ignore the fact that Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot had been advocating for a post-Labor Day start long before Hogan became governor. The General Assembly voted to allow each county to determine its own school calendar, rather than having the state dictate start and end dates. Since when are Republicans opposed to local control? Let’s be honest — the starting and ending dates for the school year don’t have much of an impact on actual learning. Students attend 180 days no matter what, and any advantage gained by a post-Labor Day start is surely lost by remaining in school late into June.

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Every year Carroll County goes through a torturous ordeal to adequately fund schools, and every year we barely scrape by. I don’t anticipate the process being much different this year, even with the Kirwan Commission recommendations finally completed. Kirwan was tasked with helping Maryland develop a world-class school system. The commission has called for several initiatives. One is to raise teacher salaries to be more competitive with other professions. Another is to expand early childhood programs and pre-kindergarten opportunities for low-income families.

Most relevant for Carroll County is the focus on college and career readiness. Not only does Kirwan want to create clear pathways for college, it advocates strengthening technical education that leads to high-paying jobs in industry. Our Career and Technology Center could receive much-needed improvements because of Kirwan. The Built to Learn Act could provide resources for the East Middle replacement. Of course nothing in life is free, and the estimated price tag is almost $4 billion over the next 10 years.

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Properly funding education is where politics once again raises its ugly head. Few people argue with the actual recommendations. It’s the funding piece that needs to be looked at honestly and with an open mind.

The price tag is formidable, but maybe we need to be looking at the value of education rather than throwing up smoke screens and scare tactics to distract the public. Certain partisans have been throwing around the false statement that to pay for the Kirwan recommendations every household in Maryland would have to pony up an additional $6,200 in taxes every year. This is absolutely untrue. Why elected officials in Carroll County would repeat such nonsense would be a mystery if it weren’t very clear. They are simply repeating talking points provided by our Republican governor. Whether Hogan is positioning himself for a run for the Senate is unclear. What is clear is his Change Maryland political action committee is hoping to create a $2 million media campaign attacking Kirwan and promoting his political agenda. We are just seeing a brief preview now. The full onslaught should be entertaining.

A recent work session between CCPS, the Board of Education, and our Annapolis delegation created some enlightening dialog. CCPS presented goals for the coming year and detailed specifically how Kirwan funding will benefit our students. Our delegation seemed to mostly rehash previously held positions. Most perplexing is the belief that we can’t adequately fund education in Carroll County because Baltimore City schools are broken. It’s not at all clear what one has to do with the other. It’s kind of like saying you couldn’t possibly repair your transmission because your brakes are bad. Maybe these are separate issues that need to be addressed through different strategies and means. When a delegate complains that Kirwan is just a hodgepodge wish list, not only is it disingenuous, it reflects badly on our community. Kirwan does not advocate randomly spending money willy-nilly; it creates an independent oversight board. Accountability is a built-in feature of the new legislation, so let’s be honest with the public.

When the General Assembly convenes next month, we need true leadership representing Carroll County. Instead of moaning about how things can’t be accomplished, we need a clear vision and focus to move forward. Robert Kennedy once said that some people “see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Today, we need both. We need to accurately assess where we are, and more importantly, we must dare to embrace a better future.

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Tom Scanlan writes from Westminster.

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