After welcoming students back for their first day of classes Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the hiring of an independent investigator to address what he described as a culture of corruption in public schools.
His Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous, called for the creation of a new state fund to reimburse teachers for buying classroom supplies.
Both Hogan, a first-term Republican, and Jealous, a progressive first-time candidate, describe education as a top priority. But at a time when Maryland is rethinking how much to spend on K-12 schooling and how to structure public education, the two candidates offer voters distinct visions on where the school system should go from here.
Jealous has proposed dramatically increasing state spending on education, boosting teacher pay by 29 percent over seven years, and legalizing and taxing marijuana to pay for prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds. He says he is willing to forgo other state spending to focus first on education.
“I’m fully committed as a public school parent of making sure we fund education first,” Jealous said outside a Baltimore school where he announced his plan to reimburse teachers. “It’s a real investment in them today, and it’s a real investment in our economy tomorrow.”
Hogan agreed Maryland’s teachers deserved to be paid more but said the state cannot afford Jealous’s proposals.
In nearly four years in office, Hogan has emphasized seeking accountability on the billions the state already spends on school and giving more choice to parents via charter schools, vouchers and tax breaks for donations to private schools.
He required all schools to start after Labor Day, launched programs that allow high school students to start community college before they get their diplomas and demanded that officials in Baltimore County and Baltimore City address air conditioning problems in schools.
While Hogan tells voters in his stump speech that public schools have received record state funding each year of his administration, his critics point out the governor was required to give that much to schools under state law. In a few instances — such as his first year in office — Hogan and Democratic lawmakers fought over how much extra funding to allocate to the state’s neediest school districts.
The contrast between Jealous’s plans to dramatically boost spending on public education and Hogan’s call for targeted fiscal restraints comes as state leaders are rewriting the rules on how to fund public education.
“This really is a pivotal moment for education in Maryland,” said Bebe Verdery, education reform director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
Verdery said the next governor will have to decide what to do about racial inequity in education, the funding gap between wealthy and low-income districts and the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, which has laid out the future course for K-12 education in Maryland.
Jealous’s approach has won him the endorsement of the state teachers union. On Tuesday, he said teachers in Maryland are underpaid, struggling to make ends meet, and should not have to reach into their pockets to pay for pens, paper and markers.
Teachers already can claim a $250 tax deduction on their state and federal tax returns to cover money spent on school supplies. But Jealous said they should also be able to get reimbursed directly, through a fund that would depend on voluntary donations from state taxpayers.
Similar donation programs already exist to provide funding for the Chesapeake Bay, public campaign financing and services for the developmentally disabled.
Hogan on Tuesday signed an executive order to hire Valerie Radomsky, an education aide to Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), as the first-ever director of the Office of Education Accountability.
The governor said Radomsky will focus on fielding complaints from the public and reviewing allegations that could range from misspent school funding to grade fixing. He also promised that if he is reelected in November, he will push for a law that gives the investigator subpoena power.
“The status quo is simply not good enough for Maryland’s children,” Hogan said, citing what he called “a persistent and alarming lack of accountability in local school systems across the state.”
He cited occurrences in five of the state’s 24 school districts over the past two years: grade-altering allegations in Prince George’s County, a mold problem in Howard County, low test scores in Baltimore City, the removal of a Washington County school board member over inappropriate social media posts and the former Baltimore County superintendent serving jail time for failing to disclose outside income.
Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), who chairs the House’s education subcommittee, said that the state already has agencies in place to prevent corruption and ensure school funds are properly spent.
“The buck stops at the governor’s desk in terms of accountability,” Luedtke said. “Everything that he’s proposing are things that existing state agencies can do. And if they’re not doing it, he needs to tell them to. They work for him.”