His blaming his action on the state’s declining revenue because of the pandemic, while understandable, was tough for me to stomach. After all, I’d recently closed a $103 million budget deficit of my own, while contributing record investments toward public education.
Speculation had swirled for weeks that Hogan was considering vetoing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a sprawling 235-page piece of legislation. The effort represented a bipartisan approach to create an equitable, fully funded public education system throughout Maryland.
I’d held out hope that Kirwan — nicknamed after the chairman of the commission tasked with coming up with a slate of educational reform recommendations that provided the framework of the legislation — might survive, and with it the bright futures of schoolchildren throughout Maryland, but especially in my hometown of Baltimore, where, in 2019, 32 percent of third- through fifth-graders scored below proficiency on standardized tests in math and nearly 37 percent of those tested in English failed to meet the mark.
Back in February, I traveled to Annapolis to join elected leaders from Montgomery and Frederick counties to advocate for Kirwan. We all viewed it as our single best chance to drastically improve educational outcomes for all children in Maryland.
During my testimony, I recounted a story from early in my tenure as mayor of Baltimore, when I participated in my first meeting of the Child Fatality Review Board.
The board brings together representatives of government agencies and experts from across the state to review fatalities of children from birth to age 17 and develop recommendations to prevent tragedies.
I was struck by the stories of two young teenage boys from Baltimore City, each a victim of gun violence.
The two boys were not acquainted, but their stories mirrored one another. They both attended public schools and had each missed more than 140 days of school in a single calendar year.
I sat in the board meeting momentarily paralyzed. I was angry that the system didn’t catch their records of absence earlier and attempt to help these precious children. I was frustrated that our overburdened schools hadn’t been given the proper resources to save these young boys.
That day, I spoke up and remarked how we all had failed the teenagers. They depended on us to provide them with a safe environment conducive to learning, and we failed.
I vowed then to help provide the children of Baltimore with a brighter future. This included making difficult budget decisions that didn’t sacrifice the educational futures of untold children in the name of fiscal responsibility.
In April, after growing increasingly frustrated that too many students in Baltimore lacked access to computer equipment and the Internet — tools necessary for engaging in distance learning — I introduced emergency legislation to use $3 million from a special fund I’d helped create years earlier to provide grants to organizations helping young people. The bill made its way from introduction to unanimous passage in about two weeks. And recently, I was able to present the public school system with a check to help purchase thousands of Chromebooks and Internet connections for students in need.
In Baltimore, we’re losing roughly $20 million in revenue per month because of the coronavirus. So, I understand intimately the pressures being placed on governments. I can’t, however, rob our children’s futures to balance a budget.
When I traveled to Annapolis in February to support passage of the Kirwan bill, I was quoted as describing the legislation as a matter of life and death for young people in Baltimore. At the time, the memories of those two teenage boys weighed heavily on my spirit.
Staring at the computer screen after the governor announced his veto of Kirwan, I couldn’t help but feel the sting of despair.
Almost in an instant, my mind flashed back to the Fatality Review Board. I had pledged then that children in my city and throughout our state are worth fighting for.
The governor’s action dealt a temporary blow to our movement of educational reform.
But I remain heartened by the fact that our state’s legislature likely has its sights trained on pursuing an override of the governor’s veto of Kirwan.
Together, we’ll pick up our heads and be thankful to fight another day.