Democrat Shea proposes sweeping — and costly — education plan that covers kids from womb to job interview

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Democrat Jim Shea is pitching an expansive, costly plan to overhaul Maryland’s education system, starting with expanded prenatal care and stretching through on-the-job training.

The multibillion-dollar proposal emphasizes extra funding for poor areas, universal preschool, child care subsidies, after-school care and summer programs, plus tuition-free community college, higher pay for teachers and a new K-12 curriculum pegged to international standards.


“We have to have all of these building blocks,” Shea said.

The 21-page proposal released Monday morning, however, does not offer a timeline or a price tag for the plan. Shea said those details would come later, after a state commission that’s also working on education reform releases its price estimates for similar ideas.


Shea said in an interview he expected it to cost in the billions of dollars — and that he doesn’t expect to raise taxes in order to pay for it.

In the crowded Democratic field for governor, candidates spent two days wooing one of the most influential unions in the state.

Shea criticized Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s record on education, pointing out that education spending has not risen as quickly as the state’s revenue. Hogan’s spokesman has said the governor has increased education funding each year, and the governor’s record speaks for itself.

Shea promised that, if elected after winning the eight-way Democratic primary, he would make putting more cash into the education system his top priority, and he was willing to make “tough choices” to do it.

He declined to identify what he would trim from state spending in order to make education spending increase at the same rate as state revenue, but he acknowledged it was a big expense that would require significant “political will.”

“Properly funding public education is expensive,” Shea said. “In the long term, however, failing to fund education is far more expensive in lost productivity and underutilized human capital.”

In order to save some money, Shea said that non-classroom costs like transportation, energy and materials could be purchased through a statewide joint purchasing agreement. He speculated that that could save about $100 million annually — about 5 percent of the cost of such purchases.

Many of Shea’s proposals are the same ideas under discussion by the Kirwan Commission, a panel charged by the state legislature to come up with ways to overhaul education in the state. The commission plans to issue its recommendations — and the large price tag that goes with it — by this June.

Shea promised that, if elected, he would fully implement the commission’s recommendations.

A consultant for the commission has estimated Maryland needs to spend $2.9 billion more each year on education, though some commission members have said they expect the total cost of their proposals to be less than that.

“Maryland must invest boldly in education,” Shea said. “If, however, we commit fully to a bold plan to have an education system rivaling the best in the world, the benefits to our children and our state will be enormous and more than justified.”

Shea said that Maryland has taken steps before, pointing to the landmark Thorton funding formula that increased K-12 school funding from $2.6 billion annually in 2002 to $7.9 billion this year.

Maryland eventually raised taxes, in 2007 under then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, in order to pay for the promises in the Thornton program.


Shea called it “morally wrong and, ultimately, economically and socially destructive” that minority and young mothers are less likely to have access to prenatal care.

While Shea said that he believes his entire education plan should be enacted at the same time, he singled out funneling more resources to economically depressed areas as his top priority.

“Every year we delay on that, we are creating more and more problems for ourselves,” he said.

Shea’s proposal includes raising pay for teachers — but he doesn’t say by how much or how quickly those raises would be implemented. He also pitches more professional training for educators, residency programs for teachers in training, and hiring more teachers in order to reduce class sizes.

He said community colleges should offer child care and health care, and Maryland needs more vocational training to connect high school students with jobs.

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