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Kirwan veto override: Lawmakers take a stand for schools | COMMENTARY

Members of Strong Schools Maryland including Shamoyia Gardiner, from right, deputy director, and Joe Francaviglia, executive director, take down their displays after rally at the State House on Wednesday January 13, 2021 to urge lawmakers to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of the Blueprint for Maryland's Future. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun).
Members of Strong Schools Maryland including Shamoyia Gardiner, from right, deputy director, and Joe Francaviglia, executive director, take down their displays after rally at the State House on Wednesday January 13, 2021 to urge lawmakers to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of the Blueprint for Maryland's Future. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun). (Kenneth K. Lam)

This week’s legislative override of Gov. Larry Hogan’s ill-advised veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future may prove the most important action members of the Maryland General Assembly will take this term. Unfortunately, the landmark legislation has frequently been misrepresented by opponents.

Here’s what it is: A generational effort to reconfigure public education funding formulas and expand programs to meet higher standards and make the system more equitable so that every child who grows up in Maryland has access to a top-flight education. This thoughtful proposal was developed over years of study and public input by a commission chaired by William “Brit” Kirwan, the former University of Maryland System chancellor. It is complex. It is ambitious. And, yes, it anticipates greater spending on K-12 education. But the 230-page document also relies on proven strategies like pre-K classes, greater access to technical and vocational training for students not bound for college and higher state funding for schools serving low-income communities that are certain to produce results.

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Here’s what the blueprint is not: It is not a payoff to teacher unions. It is not a tax increase. It is not a burden that will drag down Maryland’s economy. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In this century, intellectual capital is no longer a luxury that can be made available only to families or political subdivisions that can afford it. Employers need young people prepared for a knowledge-based economy. We are a world of computers, of science, of intellect. To not invest more in better educational outcomes is to allow our future to slip away. One of Maryland’s greatest economic strengths has been its well-schooled workforce (Education Week ranks Maryland’s school systems as among the five best in the nation). And money matters. Quality K-12 schools are what successful employers crave not just to provide future employees but to keep their own workforce happy.

That’s why members of the General Assembly passed the blueprint last year by overwhelming margins (96-38 in the House; 37-9 in the Senate). Gov. Larry Hogan’s subsequent veto was not only wrong, it was intensely political. The Republican governor decried the measure as a tax increase in the middle of a pandemic knowing full well that the legislation is already fully funded through 2026, when COVID-19 and its accompanying economic downturn will not only be a memory but a fairly distant one at that. But then this is not the first time we have caught Mr. Hogan fibbing about the state of Maryland’s budget and taxes. In his recent State of the State address, Mr. Hogan claimed Maryland faces no structural deficit (not true) and that “Maryland has not had a single tax increase since I was elected governor” (also not true). Quite a few state residents will recall that the federal tax cut in 2017 alone caused about 13% of Maryland filers to pay more in taxes. The sales tax is now applied to online sales when it was not in the past and there have been inflation-based increases in the state gas tax, all during his term. As for deficits, the governor’s spending plan this year is in the red by about $77 million, according to a recent analysis by the legislature’s budget experts.

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Here’s how the governor and legislature should be talking about the blueprint: As a necessary expense that will ultimately require more from state taxpayers, preferably from those who can afford it. In 10 years time, the cost of these changes is expected to grow to about $4 billion annually. That’s significant, but it’s well worth the expense. If, for example, Maryland wants a Baltimore that is flourishing, that is no longer so weighted down by concentrated poverty, drug addiction and violent crime, markedly improved schools are vital. What should be the focus from this week forward after the Senate on Friday follows the House lead on Monday and overrides Mr. Hogan’s veto is for an emphasis to put placed on accountability. Indeed, the blueprint establishes its own Accountability and Implementation Board. Polls show taxpayers support the blueprint, but they expect their dollars to be spent wisely. Finding better ways to monitor and measure this process is always welcome whether it originates with teachers, school administrators or politicians.

Make no mistake, the whole point here is to get return on investment. If schools are better funded, teachers better paid and trained, student opportunities expanded and it does not result in graduates prepared to be useful members of society, there ought to be a serious reckoning for all involved. But this seems unlikely. From Day 1, we have been impressed by the Kirwan Commission’s actions as a serious effort to improve the quality of public education. That’s why it won the backing of educators, of business leaders, of local governments and of parents. It’s long past time the governor joined this crusade and recognized the importance of better schools to this state’s economy and its future.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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