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Gov. Hogan failed Md. students

Marylanders value investments in public education and understand the interdependent relationships between learning and earning. These principles have contributed greatly to our collective quality of life and served as the bedrock strategy for safeguarding and enhancing our state's economic competitiveness.

The constitutional obligation of providing an "adequate and equitable" education for all of Maryland's public school students has been recognized by our courts and embraced by past Democratic and Republican governors alike. That's why it's so alarming to see Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration throw these principles to the wind and shortchange Maryland's almost 900,000 public school students.

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Over the last three years, by cutting programs like the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI), capping much-needed inflationary formula adjustments and diverting funds to nonpublic religious schools while public schools are drastically underfunded, Governor Hogan has consistently failed to prioritize the needs of Maryland's public school students.

Most recently, after initially ignoring, then demeaning, and ultimately refusing to fully meet the needs of the state's most at-risk students in Baltimore City, Governor Hogan left no doubt that his misguided approach to public education represents a real risk to our children's future and the economic prosperity of our state. While the projected structural deficit of Baltimore City's public schools dominated attention during the recent legislative session, it was Governor Hogan's initially proposed $42 million cut that was the biggest driver of that future-year shortfall. And that's not all: Seven additional local school districts were slated to be cut in Governor Hogan's proposed budget, with six additional districts seeing increases that fall below typical rates of inflation. Remarkably, Governor's Hogan's decisions came despite more than $550 million in projected revenue growth for the State of Maryland next year.

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These cuts have tangible consequences. Next year, Baltimore City Public Schools will have access to $30 million less compared to FY17, which will lead to 300 staff cuts, including almost 75 teacher layoffs in core subject areas. Yes, because of the diligent work of hundreds of thousands of parents, teachers, education advocates, the General Assembly, and Baltimore City, these cuts are significantly less damaging than those associated with the original $130 million budget gap. However, this is the third straight year of job layoffs in the school district, and these yearly budget cuts are not sustainable.

Governor Hogan's actions and inactions have rendered meaningless his oft-repeated sound bite of "record funding for public education." While public school systems are by no means exempt from having to operate efficiently and with accountability, even casual observers understand that real-dollar funding reductions or negligible adjustments that don't approach the rate of inflation hurt students, education outcomes and ultimately every one of our fellow citizens in Maryland.

Later this year, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, commonly known as the Kirwan Commission, will complete its comprehensive review and assessment of Maryland's financing formulas and accountability measures and make recommendations to improve a system that is clearly not working. These recommendations will require Maryland to confront difficult questions and challenges around how the State Board of Education holds local school systems accountable, the preparedness of our public school students to successfully participate in the global economy, and the adequacy and equity of our state's approach to funding public education.

A governor who prioritizes public education in action, and not just talk, would reflect that belief in many specific tangible ways by:

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• Addressing obvious defects and deficiencies in a funding formula that no longer serve the interests of our children and this state;

• Advancing solutions to challenges such as those with the city schools' budget like extending the time frame for their contribution to the 21st Century Schools Initiative, revisiting the provision of student transit service through the MTA, incentivizing the disposition of surplus school properties and facilitating a settlement to the contentious litigation surrounding charter school funding;

• Appointing qualified leaders to the state school board who can work collaboratively with the leadership of local jurisdictions to closely and consistently monitor their finances;

• And resisting the ideological temptation and cost of pursuing a private and religious school voucher program when the needs of so many public schools are going unmet.

But for all the hopeful talk by the broad range of stakeholders who want to build a "Bridge to Kirwan," Governor Hogan has proven himself unwilling and incapable of leading Maryland in any of these directions.

Jim Shea (JLShea@Venable.com) is the former chair of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland. He is also the former chair of Venable LLP, the largest law firm in the state of Maryland.

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