Vignarajah to unveil education proposal, including 1% student loans

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah will unveil her platform on education issues Wednesday in Woodlawn, including free tuition at community colleges.

Vignarajah, one of the five first-time candidates in the eight-candidate Democratic field, bills her program as one that will “expand opportunity for Marylanders from Cradle to Career.”

“Maryland’s schools were once the envy of the nation,” she said. “Today they’re headed in the wrong direction.”

The former aide to first lady Michelle Obama is not the first in the race for the nomination to oppose Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to offer an education plan. Entrepreneur Alec Ross posted an even more detailed program on his campaign website months ago but has not held an event to highlight it.

The other six candidates are at varying stages of forming their own plans.

Vignarajah’s proposals include some that are standard fare for Democratic candidates, including universal pre-K — also a proposal of then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown during his gubernatorial run in 2014. She also supports fully funding public schools, something backed by other candidates in recent forums.

While rival Ben Jealous, former president of the national NAACP, has called for free four-year college tuition, Vignarajah’s plan is more modest. She proposes making tuition free at two-year community colleges. Her position is about the same as another rival, fomer Venable law firm managing partner, Jim Shea, who also supports tuition-free community college.

Vignarajah put the cost of her proposal at about $100 million to $150 million annually. She is proposing to pay for such spending largely through unconventional financing, such as social impact bonds — described by Goldman Sachs as “an innovative and emerging financial instrument that leverages private investment to support high-impact social programs” — and public-private partnerships. Among other things, Vignarajah said she would also look at taxing medical marijuana sales. She is not proposing its legalization and taxation for recreational use.

One proposal that could distinguish her from the pack is one under which the state would lend students money for college at a 1 percent rate. Vignarajah said the average graduate in Maryland leaves college $30,000 in debt — something her plan is intended to alleviate.

Vignarajah is also proposing a crackdown on sexual assaults on campus, promising to address “the cultural norms of misogyny and objectification” while also establishing clear guidelines on what constitutes consent.

The candidate is calling for a stepped-up emphasis on STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math. She promises to spend an average of $50,000 in each public school to support STEM instruction.

“The children of Maryland cannot fall behind,” her program says. “Making these opportunities available for all students, and reducing the gender and racial disparities in STEM programs, will go far in giving every Maryland student the skills they need to succeed.

Besides Ross, Shea and Jealous, the other candidates in the race are Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno and consulting firm owner Maya Rockeymoore Cummings.

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