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Delegate: Here’s why I voted against Kirwan Commission recommendations to improve Maryland schools| READER COMMENTARY

Democratic delegates Eric Luedtke, left, and Sandy Rosenberg talk Friday, March 6, 2020, during a House of Delegates debate on a bill requiring additional programs and spending in public schools. In the background, Republican Del. Mark Fisher of Calvert County implores lawmakers to support his amendment to the bill.
Democratic delegates Eric Luedtke, left, and Sandy Rosenberg talk Friday, March 6, 2020, during a House of Delegates debate on a bill requiring additional programs and spending in public schools. In the background, Republican Del. Mark Fisher of Calvert County implores lawmakers to support his amendment to the bill. (PAMELA WOOD)

A week ago, House Bill 1300, also known as “The Kirwan Commission” legislation, was voted on by the House of Delegates. I voted against this bill and the more than $30 billion price tag to our taxpayers. My daughter is a school teacher, and I felt the need to explain my vote to her and the many other teachers and administrators that I have talked to since being elected (“Marylanders favor more spending on schools but not higher taxes; here’s a missing piece of that puzzle,” Feb. 24).

The Kirwan Commission indicated that 47% of school teachers leave the profession within three years of teaching. Our teachers are faced with ever increasing challenges. Teachers’ jobs are not simply to teach a curriculum within the walls of a classroom but also to help students cope with the many struggles they face outside the school. This oftentimes causes disruptive behaviors. How can a teacher teach in an unruly environment and be successful? Kirwan does not address this root issue.

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Other issues need to be addressed as well. An amendment to reduce class size to help teachers and promote learning was rejected on party lines. This bill has the potential to grow class size as stated in a January report. I researched what is working presently and found in Florida that classes are limited to 18 students in K-3, 22 students in grades 4-8, and a maximum of 25 students in grades 9–12. I shared this with professionals in the state and it made sense to them. This common sense amendment failed. I don’t understand why.

In the past, teachers were rewarded with higher pay for obtaining their master’s degree. To my surprise, that is no longer emphasized and is not at all a part of this bill. I was told that there is no evidence that a master’s degree benefits teachers. The new emphasis is on obtaining national board certification. If a teacher obtains that certification, he or she gets a $10,000 pay increase. That grows to a $17,000 increase annually if the teacher is in an under-performing school. This is an education bill that completely undermines the value higher education.

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I sounded the alarm to University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Salisbury University only to be told that they don’t weigh in on pending legislation. How can we fix the system when everyone must simply fall in line and accept what is handed down? And it gets worse. If this bill is set to raise the standards of teaching, why was the requirement for a new teacher to obtain certification, the new standard, taken out of the bill?

So many other amendments were rejected that made sense such as an amendment to require curriculum for teaching financial literacy. The list goes on and on.

Early on in this, I talked to William “Brit” Kirwan, himself. I voiced my concern over the current wealth formula for funding our schools. Dr. Kirwan assured me that would be addressed. That didn’t happen either (“Maryland legislators adjust for reality in Kirwan costs,” March 3). If Maryland wanted equality, every child in the state would get the same state tax dollar regardless of the county he or she lives in. It should also be noted that the funding formula was amended to make this more affordable to certain jurisdictions. What this means is an additional $2 billion is going to a few jurisdictions on our dime.

There are many parts of the bill that I support including elevating the profession of teaching. However, I don’t support the way it is being done. Kirwan eliminates the local control of our school board. The needs of our children vary from county to county. Let our counties decide how to spend the education money. The bill does correct the damage that was done to career training in the 90’s when every child had to go to college. There are plenty of unfilled jobs today because we had to eliminate the “stigma” of vocational training back then. I went to vocational school, prior to my college, and proudly support students who develop a skill and strong work ethic. This bill supports career and technology education. However, we can implement this in phases and do it right without jeopardizing the finances of our state.

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As of 10 p.m. on Friday, March 6 when the bill passed the House of Delegates, there was still no plan as to how to pay for it. The plan may have been House Bill 1628, the massive tax bill that would have taxed nearly every service in Maryland. However, the citizens did a great job in letting their legislators know that they would not accept those tax hikes. Marylanders are taxed enough (“The legislature’s Plan B for Kirwan funding offers a sensible compromise,” March 5).

Before we spend billions of dollars on education, we need to invest in rebuilding our families and allow teachers to teach in an environment conducive to learning. Our teachers have to fill the role of parents as well as that of a teacher. As legislators, we need to focus on legislation that supports the family unit and makes children learn responsibility as well as respect for themselves and others. For example, my committee just passed a bill to mandate county libraries to not charge children aged 13 and younger a late fee on an overdue book. This is absurd me. Accountability needs to be taught and start when our children are young.

In summary, I support education, our teachers and our children in Maryland. I know firsthand that our teachers work an incredible amount of hours and deserve more pay. It must be done in an effective and responsible way. The real problem in our schools is not addressed here. The problem is that our families and family values are eroding. We must address the discipline issues and the classroom environment to allow our teachers to teach.

Wayne A. Hartman, Ocean City

The writer, a Republican, represents District 38C, Wicomico and Worcester counties, in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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