By Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan is obligated to name seven individuals to the board overseeing Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan. This is not an especially difficult task. A General Assembly committee has already provided him with the names of nine nominees it finds qualified to serve on what is formally known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Accountability and Implementation Board. Earlier this month, Governor Hogan expressed reservations about the nominees, chiefly that they lacked representation from Southern Maryland, the Eastern Shore or Western Maryland. To the governor’s dismay, lawmakers held firm and insisted their slate is qualified. As a result, it now seems possible the governor may continue his stonewalling, which could result in severely inconveniencing, if not outright postponing, Maryland’s landmark efforts to upgrade K-12 public education.
Governor Hogan has been no fan of the blueprint, that’s clear. He vetoed the multibillion dollar measure last year, complaining that it was unaffordable in the long-term. Democrats in the state legislature saw things differently and overrode the veto this year. They embraced the concept of expanded pre-K programs, greater state assistance for schools with high concentrations of poverty, better training and pay for teachers, and other reforms that are meant to better prepare Maryland’s students, regardless of race or class, for the challenges of the 21st century. And, of course, they approved an accountability board to make sure that the government and school districts properly implement these reforms in the years to come.
But one would think that a governor with all his advisors, political acumen and personal ambition (allegedly extending to the presidency) could come up with a better excuse than the failure to have a Western Marylander on the oversight board. Let’s do the math, Mr. Hogan. There are about 250,000 residents in Maryland’s western three counties compared to 6 million in Maryland. That means a seven-member board should have no more than just under one-third of one person from Garrett, Allegany or Washington counties. Thus, the geographic balance claim makes no sense — unless your purpose is to throw a spitball (or monkey wrench) at the proceedings. To be fair, Mr. Hogan also observed the lack of nominees from Prince George’s County, but ignored the fact that one of the nominees has worked Prince George’s Community College for 29 years and two others, including William “Britt” Kirwan who spearheaded the effort to create the blueprint in the first place, have significant association with the University of Maryland, College Park.
The whole argument is, of course, a red herring. And while it’s true the blueprint board ought to have some measure of diversity in race, gender and life experience (and the nominees reflect that), educational expertise needs to be put at a premium as well. And it’s difficult to argue that voices like Mr. Kirwan’s or that of Joshua Starr, the former superintendent of Maryland’s largest public school system and now the CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, should not be heard so that a Larry Hogan ally from Hagerstown or Easton can have a seat. This is a major initiative of lasting importance over which the governor has had little say, and he clearly resents it deeply. How else to explain his tweets that claim the recommended board makeup “hurts efforts to further equity and inclusiveness” and “does a tremendous disservice to our young people?”
Enough is enough. The governor can complain all day that Democrats in the State House pushed for education reform without much involvement from him because it’s absolutely true. Mr. Hogan’s intransigence on education spending and his obvious disdain for teachers and their union representatives ensured that lack of participation. But given the blueprint is now law and Maryland K-12 schools need the help more than ever, in no small part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more than disappointing that he can’t seem to get on board. Just ask any parent with a child in schools right now. They aren’t sitting around worrying whether one of seven members of an oversight board that’s supposed to make sure school reforms move forward is from the hinterlands of what is, after all, the eighth smallest state in the country as measured by geographic area. What they want is some assurance that, after all the craziness of remote and socially distanced in-person learning, Maryland public education is headed toward better days.
Name the board, Governor Hogan. Support public education.
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