Tuesday, January 21, 2020
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Tomorrow begins the 2018 legislative session in Md.

The 2018 legislative session opens Wednesday in Annapolis, Maryland, and while both Democrats and Republicans are suggesting education issues will lead the agenda in some ways, the fact that a Republican governor hasn’t been re-elected in the state in over 50 years could make getting through this election year a challenge for the state’s enormously albeit uncharacteristically popular Gov Larry Hogan.

Maryland House of Delegates (fotoguy22 / Copyright iStock)

Education is likely to take the lead, as more people in the state, according to some more objective polls—those that aren’t taken by teachers’ unions, for example—say it’s the most important issue facing state government, by a small margin over jobs and taxes.

Among the 70 bills in the House of Delegates and 114 in the Senate that had been pre-filed as of mid-December, several deal with education.

One delegate to the General Assembly, Eric Ebersole, a former school teacher, pre-filed a bill that would allow school staff who aren’t certified teachers to proctor state exams. He hopes that this will free up teachers to continue teaching, the Baltimore Sun reports.

I sympathize, because, although I’ve never been a science teacher in Maryland, I imagine the situation resembles that in Illinois, where science teachers are very often pulled out of their classes to proctor state tests in math and reading.

That’s not a problem for the kids taking the tests, since proctors are given very scripted instructions as to what they can say during the test and they can’t answer any questions about the content of the questions anyway. In fact, proctors aren’t even allowed to look at the tests over the kids’ shoulders. But it is a problem for the students in that science teacher’s science classroom, because now they have a sub, who may not be familiar with the science content she’s supposed to be teaching them.

A legal hurdle with this pre-filed bill is that it would take away some of the teeth for enforcing security of the tests themselves. If a certified teacher cheats on a test, say by looking at it and posting the questions to her classroom blog, the state can take away her teaching license. This authority reduces the tendency of teachers to cheat while proctoring an exam.

The bill might not be a good move, therefore, especially if other legislation proposed by Mr Hogan would increase the weight state tests have in determining a school’s grade to 80 percent from the current 65 percent, a change that could pressure schools into cheating systematically.

Similar stumbling blocks can be expected out of the gate for any bills that are based on a school funding commission’s preliminary report, released this week. The report calls for better access to pre-kindergarten in all Maryland public schools and more school funding overall.

The Kirwan Commission, as it’s been called after Brit Kirwan, who chairs it, has called on legislators and the governor to “increase pre-kindergarten expansion grants” and to make other changes, most of which involve sending much more money to the schools, writes Len Lazarick at Maryland Reporter.com.

But the recent bomb cyclone and the national exposure schools in Baltimore City got, with kids in parkas trying to learn in their schools’ 40° classrooms, have led Mr Hogan to suggest a $2.5 million emergency fund to fix, at least, the heating in Baltimore City schools, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun.

Calling the situation in Baltimore City schools a “horrendous crisis,” Mr Hogan noted that the school district recently had to return about $66 million to the state, money that was earmarked for building repairs, after projects to fix failing heating systems and roofs were unable to stay within the budget or finish in a timely manner.

So Mr Hogan also wants to create a new investigator at the state level to oversee ethics violations, civil rights issues, and corruption probes within the public schools. Since the state spends so much money on education, the state has to demand accountability, but some Democrats question whether creating a new office in the state would make a dent in any corruption that now exists within local school districts or their boards.

Maryland spends about $6 billion of its $43 billion state budget on K-12 education, the largest chunk given to any single state function. Many of the proposed bills—the Kirwan Commission also wants the state to improve support for career and technical education, fund after-school programs at high-poverty schools, and try to encourage high school graduates at the top of their classes to pursue teaching careers—can expect considerable and even heated debate, especially given the amount of money some of the proposals will cost. But everyone’s goal is clear: improve the public schools in Maryland.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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