John B. King Jr., president and chief executive of the Education Trust, was education secretary under President Barack Obama. He lives in Montgomery County.

As a Maryland public school parent and as an educator, I know firsthand the difference that public schools can make for students. They made all the difference for me (literally saving my life). I also know that the future is in great hands because students, including my daughters, are leading the way to build a better tomorrow, thanks, in large part, to public schools.

Recently, state leaders in Massachusetts and Maryland made school funding headlines, but the stories couldn’t be more different.

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In Massachusetts, state lawmakers unveiled the Student Opportunity Act, which, if made law, would invest $1.5 billion in public schools, give the state one of the country’s most progressive funding formulas and ensure that education leaders spend the money on thoughtful plans that are informed by community and family input and are designed to close achievement and opportunity gaps.

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Meanwhile, in Maryland, the governor is plotting a secret fundraising campaign from large donors to undermine Maryland’s students and shortchange them on the investments we need to protect their future and the future of our state.

At the Education Trust, we work every day to be fierce advocates for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, nationally and in states. In Maryland, we are working alongside advocates and civil rights leaders not just to ensure there is a plan for investing in underserved students, but also to make certain there is real and meaningful policy change for the state’s historically underserved students — and to encourage honest conversations that address racial inequities for the state’s black and Latino students who, for too long, have been ignored.

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The school year is well underway, but students are watching what our state leaders do. They know their future depends on the actions that Maryland’s leaders take today, and that the stakes could not be higher.

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Maryland eighth-graders rank 31st nationally in math skills, compared with Massachusetts’ first-place ranking. For students from low-income families in Massachusetts, only 28 percent are proficient or advanced in eighth grade math. But in Maryland, it’s much worse: The state gets only 13 percent of its students from low-income families to proficiency in eighth grade math. That makes Maryland 48th nationwide when it comes to supporting some of our most underserved young people.

Massachusetts still has a lot of work to do; the state’s high rankings mask big disparities in opportunity and achievement. But Massachusetts is leading the nation in many ways — not by chance but by making smart choices.

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In 1993, the state took steps to invest more in public schools while setting clear expectations for what all students need to know and be able to do. I saw the benefits of that effort firsthand as a teacher and principal in Boston. Now, Massachusetts lawmakers are stepping up to build on that history with a new proposal that would continue their legacy of smart, thoughtful investment in students, educators and families with a strong focus on the students who need the most but get the least.

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Not all is grim for Maryland. Right now, the state has one of the nation’s most progressive funding formulas. On paper, it allocates more money for students living in poverty and English learners than any other state. But state leaders have work to do to actually deliver on the promise of the formula and to fix the loopholes that undermine that formula’s good intentions. Our analysis at the Education Trust shows that most districts in Maryland do not receive the money the state says they need, and districts with the greatest numbers of students of color are shortchanged the most.

The Kirwan Commission has been developing a plan to invest in public schools that could dramatically improve the experiences and outcomes of students across the state, from prekindergarten through high school. But, there still are critical details to be worked out, and the public should be informed and consulted as part of these proposals.

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We need more creative thinking about revenue (such as reforming the state’s broken juvenile justice system, closing unnecessary tax loopholes and penalizing polluters, not just raising taxes) and a plan for how to implement that investment in a way that actually closes gaps for students living in poverty, English learners, and black and Latino students.

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It is exactly backward, cruel and wrongheaded to spend millions of dollars on a campaign against investing in public education. Maryland legislators have a chance to come together in the upcoming session to do what’s right for students. Our state should be a leader nationwide. It’s time for us to lead.

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