Voxitatis has reviewed the published statements by major gubernatorial candidates in Maryland and Illinois and presents findings in this report. Both states favor Democrats on average, although the margin is weakening in Illinois. Most of that margin comes from voters in densely populated areas like Chicago, Peoria, and East St Louis. And in Maryland, a Republican governor, Larry Hogan, was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018, despite a 2:1 ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans in the state.
Wes Moore, Democrat
Wes Moore’s plan for education in Maryland is based mainly on the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” stemming from the findings of the Kirwan Commission. “We are also fortunate for the tremendous work of the Kirwan Commission and the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which Wes advocated for and testified in support of. This historic legislation has already set Maryland on a path to future success and will enable us to break down long-standing inequities.”
The law is estimated to add several billion dollars to the state’s budget for education within a decade. Still, it is worth noting that Maryland has reported a surplus for the past two years. Although growth is expected to slow down in the future, some of the surplus is already redirected to school capital improvements. And having that surplus puts Maryland in a good place in the event of a recession, which at this point seems all but inevitable.
Mr Moore says he also plans to make early child care more affordable for people in need. “Make child care and early childhood education more affordable and accessible by fully funding and streamlining the Child Care Scholarship fund, ensuring every child in need has access to free pre-K and growing the early childhood workforce.”
He is also making plans, if elected, to help schools make up for lost ground during the disruptions to learning brought about by the pandemic. He says he plans to “position students for success by increasing funding for afterschool and summer programs, tutoring, and more.” In addition, he intends to expand access to CTE (career and technical education) programs, which are, for many students, gateways to careers, and invest in apprenticeship and dual enrollment programs that may lead to good-paying jobs, particularly those in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
Dan Cox, Republican
Dan Cox has been relatively silent about education, saying first that he will “remove CRT (critical race theory) from public schools: CRT is Marxist propaganda, and it has no place in our civil and free society,” his website announces.
He has pledged “no more indoctrination” and no more “forced mandates,” such as the requirement that students be vaccinated to return to school. “People want their freedom back and want to make sure their money’s back in their pockets,” he was quoted on WUSA in Washington as saying during a Back-to-School night in Prince George’s County. “I will also fight to restore local control of education and curriculum and will support parental rights in education,” his website says.
Mr Cox has also made some campaign promises about “school choice”: “I will examine all executive options available to rescue our failing schools, and present a legislative package to expand school choice and independent charter schools state-wide,” he writes. “The General Assembly must act to provide the Constitutional education mandate for every child equally, including school choice.”
For the Democratic platform, Mr Moore is committing to the extra spending called for but not provided in the Blueprint. The money has to come from somewhere, as Marylanders can’t depend on continued surpluses. But other than not knowing where the money will come from, the Democratic platform at least addresses issues that are facing today’s students and schools.
The Republican platform calls for “restoring local control of education and curriculum” in a state that is and always has been firmly rooted in local control. Each local school system controls its curriculum and pacing. As for “supporting parental rights” in schools, that isn’t exactly a distinguishing characteristic: parents now have as many rights as they ever did. Focusing a campaign message on issues like this diverts attention away from real problems facing schools. It demonstrates a profound lack of understanding on the part of the candidate for the issues facing our schools.
Every parent in Maryland now has the legal (“Constitutional,” as Mr Cox calls it) right to choose where to educate their children. There’s no way to expand something that is already at infinity. Although it is not unheard of to call for a Constitutional amendment to specifically define a term as amorphous as “parental rights,” a century of precedents from the US Supreme Court, beginning most likely with Meyer v Nebraska and Pierce v Society of Sisters, generally gives parents the right to direct the upbringing of their children. Justice Antonin Scalia, however, who was a strict originalist, said in a 1972 dissent in Wisconsin v Yoder that such a right was not enumerated in the Constitution. Federal courts should not be ruling about it, he concluded, leading to calls for an amendment.
Critical race theory, while being more a legal framework than a curriculum, isn’t part of the curriculum in any of Maryland’s public schools. Again, a campaign message about education describes a topic that isn’t part of our public schools. Teachers do teach kids what was and what is, and they encourage kids to act to dismantle systems of injustice that persist against people of color. But that’s not critical race theory; it’s more like current events and history.
Mr Moore speaks of Maryland schools with pride, calling them “strong schools, educators, stakeholders, and parents dedicated to ensuring every student has the opportunity to succeed.” Mr Cox says we need to “rescue … failing schools,” implying that this can be done by “expanding school choice and independent charter schools.” Although not every Maryland school would be considered “strong,” Maryland has a poor record of charter school success, with a few exceptions. It’s unlikely to change with a new governor in Annapolis. Furthermore, charter schools often perform no better than traditional public schools when they don’t bring corruption. In other words, why risk corruption for, chances are, minimal gain?
While the Maryland gubernatorial race is between two candidates who are not the current governor, Illinois’s governor is running for re-election. We don’t have to base our findings on campaign promises; we can instead use the actual education records of the current governor and a state legislator and long-time school board member.
JB Pritzker, Democrat (incumbent)
JB Pritzker was elected governor of Illinois in 2018 and has received mixed reviews for his handling of the Covid pandemic. While the vaccination rate in Illinois is high and the mortality rate is low, the hit to Illinois’s economy has been harder than the average state. Mr Pritzker’s in good company, as many of the states that have suffered the greatest number of job losses since the pandemic are blue states or those where the majority tends to vote Democrat, with New York leading the way. Illinois is fifth on the list, and Maryland is 10th. The departure of people from blue states has created a population boom in predominantly red states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina.
Concerning school funding, Mr Pritzker said he thinks Illinois’s school funding record is among the worst in the nation. About 30 percent of school budgets now come from the state, representing an increase from 24 percent when he took office. The average state sends about 46 percent of a school district’s budget, so Illinois is among the lowest in terms of how much money the state sends to schools.
Yet property taxes in the state, especially in some regions, such as East St Louis and Chicago’s south suburbs, are extraordinarily high. When the state chips in more, funding is “fairer,” he told Crain’s. At least Illinois is going in the right direction. Transferring the school funding burden to the state will most likely reduce the burden on local property taxes. About 70 percent of the property tax homeowners in the state now pay goes to the public schools.
Darren Bailey, Republican
Darren Bailey’s plan for education includes, first and foremost, a plan to “advocate for common sense education reforms that put our children first,” he writes on his website. Based on an interview with Crain’s Chicago Business, he is speaking mostly of school funding reform. “I think education [funding] here in Chicago, is $29,000 per student, the highest in the nation, and I think the rest of the state’s close to 20 [thousand dollars], and our schools are failing?!” he said. Whether he would seek to shift funding away from Chicago and toward the rest of the state was not clear. He also suggested that students were seeking out-of-state colleges because tuition at Illinois’s universities was high.
But after some more conversation, a theme emerged. His efforts focus more on trimming the fat off the education budgets in the state’s schools. “Are we hiring administrators or are we hiring professors and researchers?” he wondered about the costs universities support in part with tuition. While Maryland prides itself on local control by school districts, Illinois has more than 850 independent local school districts, some with only one or two schools, a school board with a staff, and a superintendent and staff, all of which is over and above the leadership at each school building who don’t teach in a classroom but are instead administrators. Mr Bailey knows a thing or two about that, having served as a school board member in North Clay Unit School District 25 for 17 years, 12 as president of the board.
Like his Republican Maryland counterpart, though, his concerns go beyond school staffing and financing. He also said in an interview with WMAY-FM that critical race theory was “un-American” and said he has seen its implementation “first-hand” in some Illinois classrooms. He declined to provide specific examples, so news agencies are unable to check the validity of the assertion.
Some of Mr Pritzker’s ads paint Mr Bailey as an extremist, but we find no evidence that this is so. His claim that CRT is being taught in Illinois schools is unsupported and probably false. It shows at most a misunderstanding of what’s being taught. Don’t misunderstand me: That’s not a good place for a gubernatorial candidate to be in a state as big and diverse as Illinois. But the claim isn’t radical or extreme.
Mr Bailey lives and works with his hands on a farm in southern Illinois, has run a pre-K-12 Christian school, is unapologetically pro-life, and hangs signs with Bible verses around his home and the school. But in a state where the legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic, Mr Bailey’s ability to pass laws will depend on him working with Democrats, which he has pledged to do, for what it’s worth.
Again, as with his failure to provide examples of Illinois classrooms teaching CRT, plans are short on specifics. He might be able to work toward consolidation of school districts to centralize some of the operations at smaller districts, but Illinois already has an extensive network of regional offices that do just that. But a new governor could encourage the expansion of this idea. His answers during a debate suggest voters shouldn’t think too much of his pro-life position because Illinois would never pass laws that ban abortion. In some ways, that reveals a defeatist worldview.
We will not fix a single school by designing a new math curriculum, and we certainly won’t fix schools by banning the teaching of some subject. Is Mr Bailey the answer? By cutting waste out of Illinois’s smaller districts, can he bring more resources into the classroom? Can he bring more highly qualified teachers into the classroom? We don’t know, because he doesn’t really answer those questions about “waste,” diverting attention instead to CRT and other inconsequential changes he might seek.
The state certainly lacks no share of education reasons to “fire” Mr Pritzker. A Wirepoints report in June, which was cited in a scathing Wall Street Journal article on October 4, shows just how well local districts cover up abysmal performance with feel-good reports about school quality. This absence of accountability is what comes when leadership, starting with the Democratic governor at the top, encourages practices that have no chance of making schools better. Whoever wins, it would be good to introduce some accountability from the governor’s office or from the General Assembly. Perhaps a separate office of an accountability inspector would be an interesting idea for the General Assembly to ponder.