As the Maryland governor’s race has heated up in recent weeks, education issues have flared up, too, with clashes over pre-kindergarten, college tuition increases and school construction funding.
A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed that education was the most important issue for 20 percent of likely Maryland gubernatorial voters this year. Only taxes polled higher.
“People do connect perceptually that the governor can make a big difference on public education,” said Keith Haller, an independent public opinion analyst in Bethesda.
A year ago, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the Democratic nominee, called for making half-day pre-K available for all Maryland 4-year-olds by 2018. He said the expansion could be funded by gambling proceeds.
Republican nominee Larry Hogan has said he would like to expand pre-K but doesn’t think the state has the money to do it. In October, he derided Brown’s proposal as “a campaign gimmick” without a reliable funding source and called it “just smoke and mirrors.”
In an interview Friday, Brown also cited career and technology education as a strong focus of his education platform, noting his proposals for facility construction and tax incentives for businesses that provide internships. “While we’d like for our kids to go to college . . . not every job that’s going to be created in the next 10 years requires college,” he said.
Brown also has touted a 10-point plan to address the achievement gap between different racial and socioeconomic groups, and he has pledged increased funding for school construction.
Hogan did not agree to an interview for this article, but his campaign issued statements saying that he would put the interests of parents, teachers and students ahead of bureaucrats, work across the political aisle to shift control of schools to the local level and encourage innovation.
“Hogan will also embrace school choice and expand charter schools so that a family’s economic condition or neighborhood will no longer determine a child’s education or opportunities,” spokesman Adam Dubitsky said.
Hogan’s support for charter schools has gained notice from advocates. Maryland’s 1,450 public schools include 51 charters, mostly in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.
“Having [a charter school advocate] in Maryland either in the legislature or the governor’s office would be extremely important,” said Nina Rees, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
While pre-K has been much discussed during the campaign, education advocates say the discourse has been fairly limited: How much can we expand it, and how will we pay?
Curtis Valentine, of the Prince George’s Board of Education, said he is hoping for “a longer and more robust conversation about education policy.” Among the many questions he has considered, he said, is: “What happens after pre-K?”
Robert C. Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, said Maryland has an especially strong pre-K program and should make sure to keep its quality intact.
“You’d want to be really careful you’re not expanding too rapidly or unsystematically . . . so that you disrupt what the current programs are able to do for the most vulnerable kids,” he said.
Brown has a strong ally in the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, which endorsed him a year ago.
“This is someone who has sought our advice,” said Sean Johnson, MSEA’s political director. “He has visited with educators in every jurisdiction in the state, and he has listened to our perspectives on a range of issues.”
Hogan criticizes his opponent’s union ties. His statement said the performance gap between students in Maryland’s wealthiest and poorest districts has grown to among the widest in the nation and comes “as state leaders put the labor unions that bankroll their campaigns ahead of our children and classroom teachers.”
Brown says Maryland’s African American and Latino students exceed the national averages on standardized tests. He proposes closing the achievement gap with a plan that includes universal pre-K, school-based health services and a scholarship fund for minority students who pledge to teach in Maryland.
On higher education, Brown says he would like to keep tuition increases at Maryland’s public colleges and universities to less than 3 percent a year through 2018.
Hogan has said he would keep increases as low as possible but has pointed out that the University System of Maryland Board of Regents sets tuition rates. Hogan has fended off assertions by Brown that he should take responsibility for past tuition increases because as appointments secretary to Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. when Ehrlich was governor, Hogan oversaw appointments to the Board of Regents.
“There’s no one actually talking about education policy or how to change education policy,” said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “It’s how to use education to undermine their opponent.”
Phyllis Press of Rockville, who cast her ballot at an early-polling station nearly a week before the election, said she wanted to hear the candidates “talk about what they are going to do, not what the other guy didn’t do.”
Brown says he wants to increase yearly funding for school construction projects to $500 million by fiscal year 2019, an idea popular in Prince George’s and Montgomery County, which have backlogs of school construction and improvement projects.
Brown has accused Hogan of wanting to cut $450 million in such funding, an assertion related to calculations included in Hogan’s $1.75 billion plan to eliminate waste and fraud in government. Hogan has said he would not cut “one penny” from school construction funding. His campaign has acknowledged some mistakes in the plan but has stood by the idea that he could cut $1.75 billion, if not $2 billion, with the help of an outside audit.
A Hogan spokesman said Saturday that the candidate wants to try to increase funding for school construction and improvements by eliminating waste and inefficiency within the program.
Jesse Berry, a retired business consultant with a longtime interest in education, said he looks forward to seeing what the winning candidate will do once in office.
“All politicians give lip service to education,” he said. “I’m not impressed by the things that they say. I watch for the things that they do.”
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.