Torrey Smith, a former Baltimore Raven, is president of the Torrey Smith Family Fund and a Players Coalition member. John B. King Jr. is president and chief executive of the Education Trust and was education secretary under President Barack Obama.

As the legislative session in Maryland is underway this winter, we know that there are students who have been trying to learn in classrooms that have inadequate heat. We’ve all seen the stories about students struggling to learn in coats, gloves and hats. In what is arguably among the wealthiest states in the nation, it simply makes no sense that students are forced to learn in these conditions.

Students absolutely need heat and air conditioning, but they also need our commitment as a state to provide the opportunities — from quality preschool to rich, rigorous learning experiences in elementary, middle and high school — that prepare them to thrive in college and careers, and that can literally change their lives.

This session, the Maryland General Assembly has a chance to make a positive difference by investing in today’s students, those who will sit in classrooms tomorrow and those who are the future of our state.

Most Marylanders agree we need to make smart investments in public education. We have the opportunity to do exactly that this session.

The Kirwan Commission studied the school systems in the United States and around the world that are doing the best job preparing students to get good jobs and successfully support their families and contribute to their communities. The commission released its report last year, and the legislature is considering the necessary investments to ensure that all students have the resources they need to succeed.

As parents, we know that giving students what they need does not mean giving each student the same thing. It means tailoring resources according to students’ unique needs. That starts by addressing long-standing systemic inequities. An analysis by the Education Trust shows students of color in Maryland are less likely to have access to high-quality early-childhood education, rigorous coursework that prepares them for college and careers, well-prepared and well-supported teachers and leaders and equitable school funding.

We’re underserving Latino children even before kindergarten with little to no access to preschool compared with their white peers, regardless of family income. Students in schools with high percentages of students of color are twice as likely to have a first-year teacher as students in schools with the fewest students of color. Additionally, black and Latino students are underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses and opportunities for dual enrollment. Black students represent 35 percent of all high school students but only 18 percent of students who take at least one AP exam. When it comes to resources, the three districts in Maryland with the biggest funding gaps serve nearly half of the state’s black and Latino students.

With new revenue, we must make sure that the students who are most underserved get what they need.

Working with a coalition of advocates, students, parents, educators and civil rights and community leaders across the state, we hope legislators will seek to address long-standing opportunity gaps for Maryland students in every county. Students need funding that is allocated based on need, quality early-childhood education, access to high-quality diverse teachers and leaders and meaningful pathways to get college- and career-ready, including access to career and technical education aligned to 21st-century jobs.

Ultimately, public education — much like roads, infrastructure and health care — is a public good. And like with other public goods, we must all be willing to do our part. Some may choose to pit Marylanders against each other and frame schools solely as a cost rather than as an investment. But we all must ask ourselves: What is the cost of inaction?

A recent Sage Policy Group study shows that if we make an investment in students now, it pays off in the long term by allowing students to participate in the state’s economy and placing them on the right pathway to success early.

The evidence is clear: Students who learn more earn more and are better able to contribute to their families, communities and economy. Yet we have already made some distressing choices about what and whom we value with reckless and wasteful spending on the state’s juvenile justice system. Maryland spends millions of dollars to send young people to juvenile justice facilities far from their homes with little access to quality academic instruction or desperately needed socio-emotional supports — locking up their futures before they even get a chance to thrive. Instead, we can and should reform our juvenile justice system and redirect the savings toward investment in our young people.

The General Assembly has many priorities this session, but if we fail to act on public education, we will lose out on Maryland’s competitive future and the skilled workforce our state needs. But worst of all, we will lose out on this moment to protect our children’s future. We hope that Maryland legislators will do what’s right by our students, particularly those most underserved.

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