A group of lawmakers from different corners of Maryland are coming together in solidarity ― before a commission is set to recommend changes to the state’s education funding formulas, a policy decision that’s necessary to increase and target education funding but which could pit powerful delegations against one another next legislative session.
To kick off the Support Our Schools tour, a group of local officials convened by Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen (D), met Wednesday in Prince George’s County to tour specialty programs at Largo High School and the Academy for Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College, where high school students study for an associate degree in a dual enrollment program.
Cohen said the goal of the site visits is to emphasize what is working and what is not in public education in Maryland ahead of recommendations from the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — known as the Kirwan Commission — which is conducting a top-to-bottom review of the education system in the state of Maryland.
Joining on Wednesday’s tour were Prince George’s County Councilwoman and Democratic House of Delegates candidate Mary Lehman (D) and Jared Solomon (D), who almost certainly will win election to represent Montgomery County’s District 18 in the House of Delegates.
“We’re all coming together to say that this is a critical moment for education in Maryland,” Cohen said in an interview with Maryland Matters after the tour. “We have to combine forces and say at this session of the Legislature, we deserve and we demand an excellent and robust Kirwan report that prioritizes the needs of all of our kids.”
Solomon, who like Cohen also worked as a teacher in Baltimore City schools, agreed. “We shouldn’t be pitting Montgomery versus Prince George’s versus Baltimore,” he said. “We need a bigger pie.”
All three officials on Wednesday said a projected state budget surplus and potential dedicated revenues from the education lockbox on Election Day ballots this year will help pay for the funding recommendations from the commission. Lehman said those recommendations will be sure to dominate the 2019 General Assembly session, but the goal of the Support Our Schools Tour is to focus on things deeper than just the budget.
“We know that part of it will have to do with the wealth and relative poverty of different jurisdictions,” Cohen said. “But part of why we formed this group was we want to send a message that we’re all in it together and that we’re going to value the children of Baltimore City as much as those in Montgomery and Prince George’s and rural Maryland, that we need to make sure that every kid in our state is able to get a great education. Because we see education as a great equalizer.”
Other elected members of Support Our Schools include Annapolis Alderman Marc Rodriguez (D), Baltimore City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (D), Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D) and Garrett County Commissioner Paul Edwards (R), who is the son of state Sen. George C. Edwards (R).
The group’s goal is to unify support across all 23 counties and Baltimore city for the commission’s recommendations ahead of the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session.
Strong Schools Maryland, a grass-roots education advocacy organization that is working statewide to push for “bold” recommendations from the Kirwan Commission that become law, has provided staff support to the Support Our Schools tour and will invite their members from each county to every site visit.
Future tour stops include schools in Baltimore and Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties ― covering four of the five largest school systems across the state.