Marylanders far and wide should mark Nov. 7 on their calendars. It’s the day of the “Governor’s Gala” where for a mere $25,000-a-table at the nearly new casino hotel in Hanover, one can rub elbows with the well-to-do, dine on posh foods, sip premium liquor and admonish the lesser beings for daring to expect more from their public schools. If that sounds monstrous, don’t despair. You probably can’t afford to attend anyway.
We don’t know what sort of entertainment is lined up or details about the menu at the Casino, which, by the way, is barred by law from contributing to a candidate. But we know Gov. Larry Hogan will be there because his political lobbying arm, the Change Maryland Action Fund, is behind it all — a group that conveniently can accept unlimited donations, unlike candidate Hogan, who faced a $6,000 cap per donor and disclosure rules. We can probably expect a few moonlighting teachers, as well, handing out drinks to supplement their sorry salaries.
Governor Hogan and his crew claim that the Kirwan Commission recommendations to improve public education in this state are entirely about raising taxes. But that’s a shameless fraud enabled, unfortunately, by the fact that a lot of average Marylanders aren’t familiar with William “Brit” Kirwan, the former chancellor of the University of Maryland System or the 26-member panel he chairs. Since 2016, the commission has studied how to make the state’s public schools the best in the nation and beyond, as well as how to distribute state aid more equitably. Some of their recommendations don’t require spending more, but some — like providing for more pre-kindergarten instruction or raising teaching standards and pay or providing greater resources to the poorest systems — do take actual money.
And here’s the rub. Spending more money on public education is something most Marylanders support and have consistently. As recently as last month, a Goucher College poll found three-quarters of state residents favor spending more on schools (and 70% believe the state spends too little now). Yet an even higher percentage admit they know “nothing at all” about Kirwan. In such a knowledge vacuum, propagandists can flourish. That’s what Change Maryland’s agenda is all about: Cast Kirwan as a tax increase before the commission has even made recommendations about how best to fund its priorities. Preliminary recommendations reached Tuesday are for $2.8 billion more in state spending annually over a decade’s time with local governments kicking in another $1.2 billion.
By all accounts, Mr. Hogan is a popular governor, an extraordinary achievement in a state that’s practically foaming at the mouth to oust Donald Trump, his fellow Republican, from the White House. But of all the places to spend his political capital, why in the world did he choose to attack this education commission and its goal of upgrading schools? Baltimore is dying — yes, dying in every sense of the word — from concentrated poverty, the legacy of racism, violence, drug addiction and more. The one thing people can agree on from City Hall to local churches is that higher performing schools where educators and health professionals are staffed and trained to deal with special education, trauma, lead poisoning, violence and other behavioral problems and all the rest that schools face today would be immeasurably helpful to this city’s future. And there are many other communities in Maryland that can make a similar claim. The governor doesn’t just want to turn his back on them. No, no, he wants to mock them, to run millions of dollars of ads to lay waste to Kirwan Commission recommendations.
What might it take to finance public education? Influential lawmakers say plain economic growth will cover much of the cost, so might taxing online sales from out-of-state companies or maybe sports betting or even help from private charities. Is that really so much to ask if school spending is properly overseen, if money is tied to improved results or whatever check-or-balance Annapolis cares to devise?
So we ask again: Is opposing improved public school performance really the legacy you want, Governor Hogan? It’s not too late to cancel the canapes and open bar and join the fight for better schools.