Zeke Cohen and Kristerfer Burnett are members of the Baltimore City Council. Delegate Jared Solomon represents part of Montgomery County in the Maryland House. Mary Lehman represents part of Prince George’s County in the Maryland House. Paul Edwards is Garrett County commissioner.
Across Maryland, we have allowed ourselves to be divided when it comes to funding our schools. Urban versus rural. Rich versus poor. Baltimore versus everyone. This zero-sum scramble for resources leaves all of our kids at a disadvantage. Over the past few years, Maryland’s schools have fallen in nationwide rankings. Our economy lags behind neighboring states. And we are not delivering on our potential to lift our most vulnerable citizens out of poverty. We must do better.
As the 2019 legislative session approached, eyes were on the Kirwan Commission, a statewide effort to review the state’s school funding formula and make policy recommendations for improving student performance. The commission has discussed compelling recommendations such as expanding early-childhood education, increasing teacher pay and improving college and career readiness. The commission’s recommendations could fundamentally transform our education system and give all our students the education they deserve. If we hope to make this a reality, the state will need to provide adequate funding, and, for that, we must partner with unlikely allies.
Six months ago, a diverse group of state and local elected officials came together to support the recommendations outlined in the Kirwan Report. We come from different regions and political parties and have different backgrounds and experiences but share a belief that our children are worth the investment. We set out on a tour of the most promising schools in our districts, each using innovative strategies the Kirwan Commission hopes to expand.
In Prince George’s County, we heard from students dually enrolled in Prince George’s County Community College and Largo High School. We witnessed tenth-graders engaged in college-level analysis, unpacking how various media outlets cover controversial topics. We listened as students explained the comfort they felt knowing they would graduate high school with an associate degree, ready to immediately enter the workforce or attend college.
In Baltimore City, we learned how Wolfe Street Academy uses the community school model, drawing on community resources and partnerships, to address the impact of concentrated poverty on learning. Teachers explained how the addition of a bilingual School Family Council increased attendance. Administrators spoke of the reduction in suspensions following an expansion of mental health and afterschool programs.
In Montgomery County, we saw students light up when describing the impressive STEM program at Parkland Magnet Middle School. We tried to keep up as 12-year-old students explained their robotics and engineering design projects. Parents shared stories about struggling to keep their sick kids home from school because they dreaded missing out on that day’s lesson.
Most important, these visits grounded us in what is really at stake when we talk about education policy and funding. Each year we delay adequately investing in our schools is a year of lives delayed. A year that students fall behind in school, stuck on a wait list for mental health services. A year that low-income students with no access to pre-K struggle to catch up to their kindergarten classmates. A year that seniors miss out on their dream school because they are not prepared for the college application process.
With so much at stake, we refuse to fight over scraps, or get caught in the same tired arguments over which kids deserve more and who is already getting too much. We reject the false choice of investing in school buildings or investing in school programs. For Maryland to move forward, we must fight not for a bigger piece of the pie for ourselves but for a bigger pie for everyone. While we will wait another year before the Kirwan Commission finalizes the new school funding formula, we can all join to fight for our kids today. We owe it to those lives delayed, those potentials put off, to ensure this is the last year of waiting. We can build a world-class education system in Maryland, but we all must do our part.
The commission has recommended an initial investment of $325 million for next school year. Our colleagues in the General Assembly must pass this funding package and take bold actions going forward to fully fund the final recommendations. Our colleagues in local government must examine their own budgets to prioritize our students and our schools. Citizens must hold elected officials accountable to ensure that we make the investment in education that our children deserve. We all have a role to play. We cannot let our children down. Let’s get to work.