Opinion: Blueprint for Md.’s Future Is a Major Step Forward for Immigrant Students

Blueprint
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The override of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future was a victory for Black, Latinx and immigrant students, teachers and advocates across the state that we are all still reveling in.

For the immigration advocates supporting the bill, it was no surprise to see Gov. Larry Hogan relentlessly work to undermine reforms and provide misleading information on how much money he has invested in education.

We are pleased to see legislators fulfilling their obligation to ensure Maryland students have the resources and funding they need to have a world-class public education. Hogan’s blatant opposition to the Blueprint revealed something that we already knew. He does not value the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable Marylanders — certainly not immigrant students.

Despite his opposition, the Maryland legislature made not only the right decision, but the smart and moral decision to move forward with plans to drastically improve our public school system. The Blueprint will provide vital resources and support that will level the playing field for students who historically have been left behind by a public school system that, right now, only works for some students.

The nearly $3 billion addition to the state’s education budget is an investment that is absolutely needed at this time.

At CASA, we lead six programs serving over 400 Black and Latinx students from ages 12 to 21 across Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. We know that our students, and their families, will be positively impacted by this reform. Morelys, currently a senior in one of our Prince George’s programs, will see her dreams for future students come to fruition: expanded access to internet, socio-emotional interventions and educators better equipped to teach their students.

The Blueprint is designed to tackle some of the greatest disparities our students face in education. And now, with the impact that the pandemic has had on our students, especially from low-income families, we need it more than ever.

Study after study outlines inequities that persist in our public schools.

Pre-pandemic data shows that Black and Latinx students are less likely to be enrolled in Advanced Placement courses or early college programs than white students, even when the courses are offered at their schools and their academic records suggest they are prepared. We know that Black and Latinx students are funneled into career and technical education programs that are less likely to prepare them for success than white students when they enter the workforce. And it’s no secret that graduation rates in some counties across the state for Latinx and EL students average about 20% to 30% lower than their white peers.

These inequities have only expanded during the pandemic.

Recent data from Montgomery County Public Schools has revealed this. Black, Latinx and low-income students have suffered the greatest loss of learning and opportunity since the public health crisis began. Of the students who have not engaged in virtual learning: 49% are Latinx and 24% are Black. The average increase in percentage of failing grades for Latinx students in poverty is 24.2% and 15.5% for Black students living in poverty. This is why the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future came at the most needed time.

For Latinx and immigrant students and families in particular, the Blueprint will expand and create programs, resources and standards that they will especially benefit from including the following:

  • Expansion of all day prekindergarten to all eligible 4-year-olds by 2026.
  • Strengthening College and Career Readiness standards that include automatic enrollment in rigorous courses, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment or other pathways to career certifications or credentials which have historically shut out Latinx and immigrant students.
  • Mandating state funding for school-based health centers in MSDE be increased from its current level of approximately $2.5 million in fiscal 2019 to $9.0 million annually beginning in 2021, which may support an additional 216 SBHCs.
  • The new funding formula increases the foundation formula and the weights associated with compensatory education, special education and English language learners.
  • Creation and expansion of concentrated poverty grants to provide intensive services for students in schools that have a high concentration of student poverty and provides them school-based personnel for wrap around services such as $260,000 to fund a community schools coordinator and a school-based health care practitioner per qualifying school.

Despite these great advancements, the work is not finished yet.

CASA and other Black and Latinx advocates and community members in the Maryland Alliance for Racial Equity in Education are working hard to pass the accompanying legislation that will ensure the Blueprint is fully funded.

Several critical bills are also on the table this session that will address the digital divide, keep federal immigration enforcement out of schools and more. The work continues, and will continue, as the Blueprint is the first step to ensure that our public schools work for all of our students.

— MARITZA SOLANO

The writer is the director of education at CASA, an immigrant rights organization.