The Kirwan Commission announced last week that it will be delaying the release of its recommendations until after the 2018 legislative session. Governor Hogan must not use this delay as yet another excuse to continue to hide behind a failing funding formula, underfund our schools, and devalue our students’ education. However, given his consistently poor record on education and failed leadership, I am concerned that is exactly what he will do.
In his budgets, Governor Hogan has consistently underfunded education, especially when his allocations are compared to the rate of inflation and the rate of growth of the state’s general fund. He capped the inflationary index despite improving economic tides and rising state revenue. He diverted public money to private schools and refused to fund the Geographical Cost of Education Index that allocates more money to jurisdictions where it costs more to educate children, including Baltimore city and Prince George’s County. In his latest budget proposal, state aid to over half of the jurisdictions in Maryland fell short of the rate of inflation.
If Governor Hogan had simply funded education at the same rate as the state’s general fund growth, our schools would have an additional $360 million in funding to help educate our students. While we wait for the Kirwan Commission to make its recommendations, Governor Hogan must catch up on his deferred investments in K-12 education.
Education is of the utmost importance to our state and its future, and it will be my top priority as governor. The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, if adopted and executed properly, could be transformative for Maryland. I expect that the commission will recommend a substantial increase in education funding. Based on public hearings and information, I also expect that its recommendations will focus on critical needs like early childhood education, more programs for disadvantaged students, an updated and rigorous curriculum, new approaches and programs so high school graduates are either college or career ready, and additional support for our educators.
Every child in Maryland deserves the opportunity to succeed and grow, regardless of socioeconomic status. That is a fundamental right, secured for Marylanders in our state constitution. With our regressive funding system and lack of progress, that is simply not happening. Schools serving low income students receive 5 percent less money for education compared to schools serving high income students. We see the results as our state’s education ranking slips and our students’ scores fall in the middle of the pack.
An improved system of education would also enhance the overall quality of life in the state, bolster our state finances, temper crime and violence, and combat income inequality. There is a direct connection between education and income. Incomes will surely rise if we improve our education system and, in turn, those increases will increase the state’s revenues and spur economic activity. The return on investment is significant, and we cannot afford to let this opportunity slip through our grasp.
A high-quality education system will drive the state’s economic engine. I saw this first-hand as the chairman of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland. This point is confirmed in Amazon’s request for proposal for a second headquarters. Along with things like transit infrastructure, one of the top attributes that Amazon is looking for is strong K-12 and higher education systems. Workers want to be able to send their children to the top schools in the country, and companies want to be able to recruit and hire from a well-educated workforce. Simply put, a world-class education system will create jobs and boost wages.
In order to move in this direction, we need a new governor – one who is willing to put education at the front and center of his or her budget and legislative agenda. Education must be the Maryland governor’s top priority. Given Governor Hogan’s history of failing to prioritize and fully fund education, he has made it clear that he is not the right person for the job.
As governor, in my first budget in January 2019, I will fully fund education by lifting the inflationary cap and at least funding education at the rate of general fund growth. My first legislative priority will be passing legislation to enact and fund the policies we need to improve our education system. The Kirwan Commission is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revamp our public education system, but only if we have a governor who is willing and able to institute the necessary changes.
Jim Shea, a Democratic candidate for governor, is the former chair of Venable LLP, the largest law firm in the state of Maryland. He is also the former chair of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland, the Empower Baltimore Management Corporation, and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.