Speaker Jones: Now Is the Golden Hour for Saving Education

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) presides over the last day of the 2020 General Assembly session. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

The new decade has brought unprecedented changes and challenges within four months.

We convened the legislative session in January with two new presiding officers.

We had spent the better part of three years outlining a new way to support K-12 education to make sure that every child could succeed — regardless of background, race, income or ZIP code.

House leadership proposed legislation to invest $2 billion in school buildings so that every child could have access to the best tools for learning.

But, as we begin the fifth month of the decade, our country and our state have had the rug pulled from under us.

A virus threatens our health and the health of our loved ones, our economic security and the viability of businesses, nonprofits and government agencies.

And our children sit at home — some without access to food or a computer or a smiling face of a teacher.

Even with all we are bearing, there is much to be hopeful for. We see the resilience of Marylanders and our state institutions every single day. We have leaders — including Governor Hogan, hospital CEOs Mohan Suntha, Ken Samet and Redonda Miller, county executives, mayors and nonprofit directors — who are stepping up to support our community to get through this crisis.

But, what happens to our students when we flatten the curve? How do we account for learning loss and educational disadvantages, particularly for poor students and students of color?

We must look now to what the next few months and years will bring for these students.

This crisis has shown that investing in and securing education are more important than ever.

The first federal CARES stimulus bill provided Maryland with over $300 million to support students’ education needs now.

Yet, some students in rural communities don’t have internet access.

Some students in urban and suburban communities are still without a computer.

And many students across Maryland don’t have home situations that are conducive to learning.

Now is the time to invest in tools these students need and to close the learning and digital divides so that we don’t lose entire classes of students to residual effects of this shutdown.

A survey of school systems across Maryland shows that, in some jurisdictions, only 1% of students are not online, while, in others, upwards of 45% lack online access.

Collectively, Maryland public school students will have lost nearly 200 million hours of in-person time with teachers during the school closure that extends through May 15, excluding spring break.

And research shows that more in-person student-teacher interaction leads to more educational success.

House leadership will be asking state and local education officials to work with teachers, parents and the legislature and make specific plans to:

  • assess individual students, before school resumes, to identify what each student needs to begin the next academic year,
  • identify and expand tutoring and support services and, if necessary, create new curriculum that students need to stay on grade level,
  • consider summer school or extended school day opportunities, as well as adjustments to the school calendar, even if remotely, for students who have lost months of instruction and socialization,
  • identify help that teachers — who were not trained for distance learning — need to support students in the next phase of their education,
  • determine the most effective way to spend Title I and discretionary funding to support distance learning, with the help of Maryland’s congressional delegation,
  • identify ways to remotely support students who have special needs — including those who speak English as a second language, those who have mental health challenges and students who are homeless or living in foster care.

Now is not the time to back away from investing in our public schools. Now is the time to lean in.

Now that our children and grandchildren are at home, we all see just how much these teachers are heroes to our students every day. Students who are learning online today are the government, health, education and business leaders that will solve the crises of tomorrow.

We must not fail them.

― ADRIENNE A. JONES
The writer is the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.