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Election 2022 Government & Politics

John King Lays Out his Education Platform

Former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr., a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, talks with Maryland’s new State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

As the state begins to implement the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reforms, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John King laid out his own education plan this week, which he says “goes from cradle to career.” 

It includes universal access to preschool for three and four year-olds by 2030, expanding college and career opportunities in high school, establishing a minimum starting salary of $60,000 for teachers by 2023 and shows a high understanding of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future — a multi-billion-dollar education reform plan intended to close student achievement gaps and transform the state’s education system over the next decade. 

“One of the reasons I’m running is to make sure that the money actually does come, that we follow through on the promises of the Blueprint and get equitable resources to … communities around the state that have been shortchanged over the recent years,” King said during a telephone town hall Thursday evening. 

Some of the Blueprint’s many reforms include improving teacher compensation, providing equitable funding for all districts and providing more individualized instruction. 

Implementing the Blueprint with fidelity is a large part of King’s education platform, but King said he thinks “we have to see it as the floor, not the ceiling for investing in our students.” “We’ve got to build on it,” he said. This includes investing in teacher shortages, diversifying the teaching profession and improving students’ reading skills in early grades, King said. 

Having a high-quality education system is personal to King. When both of his parents died when he was young, “the thing that saved me was school,” King said. He later became a high school social studies teacher, a middle school principal and then the nation’s first Afro-Latino Education secretary after his appointment by President Obama. 

Most recently, he led The Education Trust, a national advocacy group that focuses on opportunity for low-income students and students of color. He took a leave of absence from the organization in April to run for governor. 

King’s education plan also includes what he calls a “blueprint for higher education,” which aims to provide 70% of Marylanders with a “high quality degree or credential” that will allow them to be successful in the workforce by 2030. 

One key is ensuring that Maryland’s education system allows students to continually grow their skills over time, or “stack” their credentials. For example, a student should be able to get a career credential in high school and apply those credits to an associates degree, which will allow them to move up at their job, King said. Those credits should then be able to be applied to a Bachelor’s degree. 

To address interrupted learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, King suggested mobilizing a statewide student support corps of tutors, recent college graduates and retired teachers who could commit to tutoring and help students catch up. 

Other topics were brought up during the town hall. With the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to let a Texas law banning most abortions go into effect, a certified nurse midwife from Takoma Park said she was concerned about the deficits of sexual education in the state. “I’ve seen the curriculum — it is terrible,” she said. 

“Preventing what happened in Texas from happening here begins with kids in school … learning about sexuality in a healthy way that will help them make good decisions as adults and help girls, in particular, to learn about the sovereignty over their own bodies,” she said. 

King said that as governor, he will protect the right to abortion, the right to quality reproductive health care and ensure a comprehensive sexual education curriculum designed by health professionals alongside educators. 

Another person asked King how he would address the unemployment gap for people with disabilities who have already finished school. Making sure that federal and state vocational rehabilitation services, or programs to help individuals with disabilities attain jobs, are delivering results is important, King said. But it will be critical to begin those conversations about what students with disabilities plan to do after they complete school as early as middle school, he said. 

King said he also plans to include the public school system as a key player in mitigating the climate change crisis, by setting goals of having 100% clean energy in all public schools, community colleges and public universities; transitioning all of Maryland’s more than 7,000 school buses from diesel to electric; and transitioning asphalt — which traps more heat — on school grounds to green space, which will also help slow down stormwater runoff. 

Building an educated workforce will be necessary to fill jobs that require the skills to develop new technology needed to address the consequences of climate change, King said. 

“I see spending on education not as an expense, but as an investment in our long-term success,” King said. “Education is foundational to the long term success of our economy and our democracy.” 

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John King Lays Out his Education Platform