WASHINGTON – Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. David Trone, both Maryland Democrats, have proposed legislation aimed at addressing educational inequities and eliminating academic achievement gaps.
The TRUE EQUITY Act, whose full title is Transformational Reforms and Updates to Ensure Educational Quality and Urgent Investments in Today’s Youth Act of 2023, would provide $1.4 billion in federal grants for states and local communities that prioritize education policy changes and address education inequities in traditionally underserved areas.
“Maryland students deserve the very best public education, and we are united in this fight for the federal government to be a strong partner in the positive transformation of our schools,” Cardin and Trone said in a statement last month. “The TRUE EQUITY Act establishes a stronger federal partnership with state and local communities dedicated to providing their children a world-class education.”
The legislation parallels policy recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education’s Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2021, the Blueprint will make major changes to the Maryland public education system over a decade with annual education funding increases of $3.8 billion.
“It’s a mirror image in some ways, in terms of the priorities in the federal legislation,” Ellie Mitchell, co-chair of the Maryland Education Coalition, told Capital News Service. “I think it’s designed really to think about trying to take a little bit of the load off of the state burden that is created by the Kirwan Commission in the Blueprint… So I’m sure the intent is to find a way to do some federal offset to this huge influx of state funding that is happening.”
The implementation costs of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act would be partially covered by federal grants provided through the TRUE EQUITY Act.
During March, initial implementation plans of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future were due from local school districts, the Maryland State Department of Education and other agencies involved with implementing the Blueprint. Based on the legislation’s implementation timeline, by July 2026 the minimum teacher salary in every Maryland school district will be $60,000.
While his legislation is based on Maryland’s education reform plan, “any state or local jurisdiction can apply for funding as long as they are open to strengthening intergovernmental partnerships that will further student achievement, eliminate disparities and provide a world-class public education to all students,” Cardin said in a statement to CNS.
The COVID pandemic played a large role in furthering education disparities, especially for minority and low-income students, according to Cardin and Trone.
In an effort to reverse these effects and improve public school systems, the legislation would focus on five main areas.
These areas would include new grants to invest in early childhood education, funding additional teacher training, giving all students access to career and college pathways by 10th grade and funding programs that aim to reduce achievement gaps. The legislation would also require states applying for funding to form state oversight boards, which would hold state and local school districts accountable if they did not meet state educational equity goals.
“We now know that COVID-19 exacerbated existing disparities and achievement gaps, so the additional support is all the more essential,” Cardin said.
“The teacher crisis is not a pandemic-created situation,” Mitchell agreed. “That’s something that we’ve been hurtling towards for a long time, in terms of teacher shortages, and also in terms of not having the diverse workforce that we want within education.”
The Maryland Education Coalition’s mission is primarily to ensure sufficient funding and equitable policies with transparent accountability in public education, based on the Maryland Constitution, which requires a “thorough and efficient set of free public schools,” said co-chair Rick Tyler Jr.
Tyler said he hopes that the Maryland congressional delegation will be able to win support from colleagues from other states.
“I will also say that Maryland historically has been a leader in education reform nationally. My initial understanding I have is that many other states are looking at what Maryland is doing,” said Tyler. “That may be another way where they will join in and support this legislation.”
The measure also drew praise from Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association.
“The TRUE EQUITY Act will provide a true federal partnership with our state and local efforts to eliminate academic disparities across racial and socioeconomic lines and elevate the teaching profession,” Bost said in a statement.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Maryland Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Jamie Raskin and Glenn Ivey also back the legislation.