Ryan Hooper is a social studies teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools district.

In announcing his campaign for governor of Maryland, former Obama secretary of Education and lifelong educator John B. King Jr. began his launch video with, “School saved my life.” For King and for so many others, public schools have been the cornerstone to a better life, providing opportunities and second chances to those less fortunate. In recent years, Democrats have properly positioned themselves at the forefront as the authoritative voice on the matter of public education. Yet, in the past year, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Maryland is one of the bluest states in the country. Democrats hold a dominant majority in the state legislature, and President Biden won the state by 33 percentage points. Gov. Larry Hogan, the centrist and anti-Trump Republican, is the lone exception, having won his reelection during the blue wave midterms of 2018 on what he calls a “purple surfboard.” Nevertheless, despite the state’s strong Democratic hold, the state has ranked at the bottom in terms of reopening public schools, which has been disheartening for a public school teacher like myself.

The irony of those who have rightfully stood up for social justice issues their whole life having turned their backs on children unequally suffering from school closures is not unique to Maryland. However, unlike other progressive states, Maryland has not had one Democratic politician in the past year strongly advocate for schools to reopen. In Chicago and San Francisco, progressive mayors have stood up to their unions and school boards, demanding schools reopen. But in Maryland, Democrats have remained silent and even marched with teachers unions to protest school reopenings for kindergartners.

Though Maryland Democrats may be able to wax poetic about educational equity and justice, they have spent the past year standing on the side of the greatest educational injustice of our lifetime. Studies and stories have revealed the devastating, unequal effects of remote learning. An analysis from McKinsey projects that these learning losses will translate to economic losses in the future. The majority of educators even acknowledge the significant learning losses accrued from remote learning, which typically have been the only option offered to urban students throughout the country.

Democrats in the state will mistakenly claim their moral standing on education after passing and overriding the governor’s veto of a historic education spending bill that 77 percent of Marylanders hadn’t even heard of. But more money isn’t what the children of Maryland needed the past year; they needed more schools open. If a Democrat such as King wanted to fight for educational justice, then he should have spent $1 million lobbying against teachers unions rather than on his progressive advocacy group.

Maryland Democrats running for governor can spend the next 18 months discussing their plans to address injustices and closing the opportunity gap. But voters in the state should remember that when schools have unjustly remained closed, thus expanding the opportunity gap like never before, it was Democrats who were standing in the way of school doors. I can’t imagine what a year of no school would have meant for a young John King. I’m sure he wouldn’t forgive those who were responsible for it.

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