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Our View: Legislators should have attended educators’ breakfast ahead of legislative session

School funding will be the major topic of discussion, and likely point of contention, during this year’s session of the Maryland General Assembly, which begins Wednesday. Implementing and funding the Kirwan Commission recommendations has become a controversial, partisan topic. While the commission’s goal of making Maryland the best school system in the nation again, as it once was before falling toward the middle in recent years, is clear, the way to pay for that mission is anything but.

Carroll politicians have been wary of the commission since before the recommendations were even released. Funding Kirwan was the hot topic at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on Friday, when Del. Haven Shoemaker called it a boondoggle and likened it to the so-called rain tax. The legislators also talked about Kirwan at a Carroll County Farm Bureau legislative dinner on Monday.

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The one time they didn’t talk about it was Saturday at the Carroll County Education Association legislative breakfast. No one from the Carroll delegation representing District 5 attended.

"This was a perfect opportunity for our funding authorities to experience first-hand some of our needs,” Teresa McCulloh, CCEA president, told the Times via email.

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It sure was. We’re certain the lawmakers hear on a regular basis from Carroll citizens worried about tax increases. We wonder how often they speak directly to educators about what’s going on in the field, what those with boots on the ground are experiencing and what is really needed to improve the situation both in Carroll and throughout the state.

Del. Susan Krebs said the District 5 group simply had scheduling conflicts and that the weekend before the start of the General Assembly is a bad time to hold such an event. Perhaps the timing could’ve been better. Still, it would have been nice if at least one of the legislators from District 5 would’ve come to the breakfast to hear concerns, glean information and report back to the others as well as to, perhaps, explain to educators what is realistic and what is unrealistic in terms of funding.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and incoming Senate President Bill Ferguson, both Democrats, told The Baltimore Sun they have ruled out across-the-board increases to state sales, property or income taxes. That is a good sign and was acknowledged as such by Republican leadership. The idea should be to stop the exodus of young families, retirees and businesses from the state for tax-related reasons, not to increase it. But the state’s slide in education has to be addressed.

Carroll County consistently ranks at or near the top of Maryland school districts in pretty much every category. Still, there’s room for improvement as the percentage of those found not to be proficient on standardized tests is alarming. And, of course, Carroll does not exist in a vacuum. Today’s students in many places around the state, including Baltimore city, will be some of tomorrow’s homebuyers, business owners and workers in Carroll County. Shouldn’t we want them to have a solid educational background when they move here?

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While education itself shouldn’t be a partisan issue, how to fund it clearly is. And over the next 90 days we are likely to see quite the fight, probably along party lines. Let’s hope that all involved keep in mind that the recommendations are there to improve education in Maryland. It’s about students, it’s about teachers, it’s about Maryland’s future.

Clearly, there are obstacles to overcome and it’s quite a lot to consider. It’s also paramount. Which is why we wish more legislators had found a way to attend the breakfast and hear what the educators had to say.

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