Ben Cardin: We must support the Kirwan Commission recommendations
By: Ben Cardin
Source: The Capital Gazette
As Maryland’s nearly 900,000 public school students have started the school year and parents have begun to attend Back-to-School nights, many have met new teachers – not only new to their class, but new to the school system as a whole.
Forty-seven percent of Maryland teachers have been leaving the profession before their third year of teaching, creating a legacy of less experienced teachers in front of the classroom and a higher burden of recruitment and training expenses across the state.
Maryland has a difficult time attracting teachers to the profession between the high costs to obtain a college education, the working conditions in school buildings, and making 25 percent less than other professions with comparable education requirements, such as nurses or accountants. Due to the lower rates of pay, half of teachers reported working a second job last year to make ends meet. These factors all exacerbate our teaching shortages in several critical areas of need, including trained teachers in the STEM, Career and Technical Education (CTE), early childhood education, and special education fields.
Investing in our teachers is a required investment in our students and their success.
While Maryland does have several nationally recognized schools, overall, Maryland students rank in the middle of the country on national tests in math and reading comprehension. And when identifying levels of academic success by race and socioeconomic status, there are glaring disparities between the performance of white and students of color and students living in poverty and their more well off peers.
Under Maryland’s current education funding system, students with the highest level of need receive less funding than students in wealthier counties. Forty-three percent of students statewide are considered low-income and more than 40 percent of students attend schools in concentrated communities of poverty.
We want the best for every student in every public school district in our state. But without a transformative change for Maryland’s school systems, one that values our students and our teachers, our children will fall further behind their peers. Maryland school systems will be even less capable of competing for and retaining talented educators, which creates a downward spiral as our state becomes less attractive for employers seeking individuals with high-tech skills.
For these reasons and more, Maryland state leaders rightly convened the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education in 2016. This commission, headed by Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan, Chancellor Emeritus of the University System of Maryland and former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, took a hard look at what new policies and practices it would take to transform Maryland’s schools into one of the best-performing systems. They also reviewed how Maryland funds its education system and how we could turn regressive funding formulas into something that worked for students and all of our local communities.
As a proud product of the Baltimore City Public School system, I support the recommendations of the Commission. I believe that providing access to a high-quality education for all students in our state, regardless of a child’s ZIP code, is one of the highest priorities of government.
Working together as federal-state and local partners, we can grow beyond our current system where only half of children enter kindergarten ready to lean and fewer than 40 percent of Maryland students graduate “college and career ready.”
I applaud the leadership of the Maryland General Assembly and Gov. Larry Hogan to support the initial down payments of the Commission’s recommendations. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (S.B. 1030) expands full-day pre-K services for our 3- and 4-year-olds and provides additional services and supports for children birth to age 2; allocates additional funding for local school systems to raise teacher pay; investments in special educators and mental health coordinators; and distributes targeted resources for students in schools of concentrated poverty.
At the federal level, we also must step up to expand federal support for programs that fund Pre-K and early childhood education programs. In addition, we must address the long-underfunded federal commitments to students living in poverty by increasing funding for Title I, Education for the Disadvantaged, as well as children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
We also must increase federal support for career and technology education and STEM programs that prepare Maryland students for tomorrow’s careers. Working towards the shared goal of ensuring every Maryland child graduates from high school, college and career ready, changes in the Higher Education Act will provide funding for high school students to take dual enrollment courses at no cost and get a head start on their college education or earn workforce-training credentials.
To recruit and maintain more highly trained teachers statewide, I’m working to have the upcoming Higher Education Act include my legislation, the Strengthening American Communities Act (S. 686), which would provide a debt-free pathway for an undergraduate education in exchange for public service. This would include accelerated student loan forgiveness for teachers already in the classroom and struggling to pay back their student loans.
All levels of government should band together to enact the recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. Together, we can ensure that school systems in every corner of our state have the best tools available for the very best educators who are working to provide our students the very best training they need to succeed. We owe our children nothing less.