Gov. Larry Hogan is increasingly looking like the anti-education governor with his dark money fundraising effort to fight reform and outright refusal this week to even engage with the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the “Kirwan Commision.”
Commission Chair Willam E. “Brit” Kirwan last week sent a letter to the governor asking him to address members "to find common ground on how we can ensure that all Maryland students have access to a high quality education and that the state is producing the quality of workforce that will enable it to sustain a vibrant and global competitive economy.”
But not only did the governor not appear Wednesday, he didn’t send his own regrets. Instead, Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley, the governor’s appointee to the commission, responded on his behalf via a letter that largely focused on the bottom line.
Granted, the $4 billion annual price tag (spread out over 10 years, mind you) is jarring. We all should demand to know how it will be spent and how we can measure success and failure of reforms; accountability provisions are key. That’s where the effort should be — on demanding details, not fighting to shut it all down.
The release Wednesday, on the same day the governor snubbed the Kirwan Commission meeting, of dismal reading scores drives home the point. If anything should convince the governor of the need to pay for education reform, we’d think it would be the continued hits to our education standing.
The results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally-mandated test that’s referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, found that about 35% of fourth-graders in Maryland scored at or above “proficient” in reading this year, compared to 40% in 2017. For eighth-graders, the percentage fell from 38% to 36%. Baltimore numbers didn’t show a significant change, but the city scores ranked at the bottom as in previous years when compared to students in other similar large city school districts. The Kirwan plan is meant to address the education gaps across the state and target the most vulnerable school districts like Baltimore’s.
Instead of embracing the effort, the governor has turned to name calling, labeling the education group the “tax hike commission" and criticizing its plan as “half baked."
Maybe if Mr. Hogan took a break from trying to raise $2 million in unregulated funds to thwart this once-in-a-generation effort to fix our inequitable and largely so-so education system, and met with the commission, he could hear about potential funding sources under consideration by lawmakers that wouldn’t hurt middle- and working class families — including taxing marijuana and legalizing sports betting. And members could further also address his legitimate concerns about accountability, which they have agreed is a priority.
Perhaps, public opinion will be what it takes to sway our governor. A Goucher poll found that 70% of Marylanders thinks the state spends too little on education and 74% support more spending. An upcoming public hearing will give others the opportunity to express their views in person.
Mr. Hogan has turned the Kirwan Commission plan into a tax-and-spend political narrative. What has gotten lost is the discussion about how to give our children the best education. That is not fair to our children or good for the state’s future.
Mr. Kirwan — a former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, and former chancellor of the state’s public university system — has said he would like to find common ground. It’s the very least he could ask. If the governor truly cares about the future of the state’s children, he should make the effort. But for that, he will have be at the table, or at least in the room.