The starting point to address inequity in Maryland is education. I learned this firsthand when I taught 6th grade at Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore. Many of my students were brilliant, but I knew they would struggle to succeed because of where they came from and what lay ahead.
Education policy starts at birth. That’s because the formative years of brain development and the foundational moments of socialization happen between ages 0 and 5. The quality of childcare is perhaps the most important, least discussed issue in education policy-making. Right now, the disparity in the quality of childcare across the state is the starting point of economic and social inequality.
We need bold ideas to make child care an education policy priority. We need to restore funding to programs that make sure kids get access to quality child care regardless of how much money their parents make. And we need to explore new ideas to lower the financial burden of child care for the middle class and help parents stay in the workforce while their kids are young. I have proposed that Maryland develop an innovative public/private fund that invests in quality child care through “income sharing agreements”. This model is currently being tested to finance college tuition not by saddling them with debt, but by investing in their future potential. For more details about this plan, check out the full child care policy page.
The key to helping kids succeed in primary and secondary school is offering strong support for pre-K education. Despite some public investment in Head Start, quality pre-K programming is not accessible for most Maryland families. It is partly a question of putting our money where our mouth is when we promise to deliver a level playfield for our children. But it is also about how we organize and provide pre-K classrooms. For example, we need to recognize that a half-day
pre-K program does not match the work schedule and childcare needs of most parents. We need to facilitate blended delivery of pre-K that is integrated and colocated with full-day childcare. And we need to be sure these opportunities are available not only in high density, high income areas, but spread out from our inner cities to our rural counties.
Knowledge is power, and we need to spread it around in Maryland far and wide. It isn’t good enough to take incremental steps toward making things better. We need to be bold and invest in our most important asset — our people.
The quality of education in Maryland cannot continue to be determined by zip code. We are perpetuating the very inequalities that education is intended to remedy if we do not finance our schools equitably. Throughout the state, teacher, students and parents are coping with critical problems in our schools — and the root cause is usually funding. Class sizes that are too large. Schools are consolidating and declining in quality. And our teachers, teachers aides, counselors, and other certified staff — who are among the finest in the country — are perennially underpaid. It’s not just about investing more in public schools. It’s about investing smarter. We need to account for the special circumstances in school districts with high levels of poverty. We need to make sure our schools are equipped with high-speed Internet access and useful technology for the classroom. And we need to pay closer attention to the distinct needs of rural and urban school districts.
The range and quantity of AP, foreign language, and advanced STEM classes vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and school to school. The ability to learn foreign languages or take an AP class should not be confined to wealthy students going to our best-funded schools. It also should be the case that individual students in small, rural schools should be able to go to school near their home but access a universe of educational options. That is why I am proposing the establishment of a state-wide high school Academy in STEM and foreign language fields with 3 AP course offerings so that districts and schools who lack the resources to provide these offerings can supplement what is available through the Maryland Online Academy.
We need to reform the current funding models for school construction in Maryland and make additional investments in construction to ensure that our students have access to the top school facilities in the country. Maryland’s current system of funding school construction is rooted in political favoritism and inequitable financing models between the various jurisdictions in the state. While some jurisdictions have the ability and means to build new schools, many do not. Within individual jurisdictions, there are additional inequities. These disparities reinforce social inequality, and they must be remedied to deliver on the promise of equal opportunity for all students.
Computer code is the alphabet of the future and we need to make sure that Maryland’s students are prepared for tomorrow’s economic opportunities. We should require that all Maryland schools offer Computer Science courses and lessons at every grade level by 2022 — with an ultimate goal of reaching every student as soon as we have the teaching capacity. For more details about Alec’s plan to bring Computer Science education to Maryland’s classroom, check out the full policy page.
We cannot achieve our full potential as a society if half of the population (women) are underrepresented in the key fields of study and work in the industries of the future. Girls remain underrepresented in some advanced STEM coursework in K-12. And there is a major drop off in representation in undergraduate majors, advanced degrees, and professional occupations. The place to start fixing this problem is elementary and secondary schools. We need to break the gendered stereotypes of which kids go into what subjects by making STEM a normative requirement for all students and promoting career plans in these fields. If girls are exposed to STEM early and often, they will not feel later that they must cross a falsely constructed gender boundary to excel in these subjects. The studies show that girls do as well or better than boys in these subjects — we need to do more to promote these pathways in our schools.
The rhythm of family life in our communities is set by the school calendar. Under Larry Hogan, local schools are now prohibited from starting their school year before Labor Day. This is misguided. Economic development directives coming from Annapolis should not supersede the educational needs of our school children and the rights of local school districts to determine the school calendar for themselves. As Governor, I would return that authority to the individual school districts.
Community schools provide an opportunity to bring together the stakeholders and resources necessary to ensure excellence both in and out of the classroom. These schools are tailored toward serving the needs of individual communities and can provide services ranging to a food pantry in communities with high rates of childhood hunger to providing ESL classes in communities with large immigrant populations to providing extracurricular activities when traditional schools do not have the resources to do so.
As Governor, I would make it easier for our local jurisdictions to create community schools, and I would create an interagency task-force with representatives of my cabinet agencies to streamline the process and support the local school districts.
There is genius everywhere in our state. But the resources for gifted and talented students are not. Every year thousands of students from disadvantaged communities are denied the opportunity to maximize their potential by accessing education resources that allow their talents to flourish. We need to work with the local jurisdictions to ensure that all communities have increased resources for gifted and talented education. The next generation of scientists, engineers, musicians, novelists, teachers and doctors are sitting in our classrooms. We need to
challenge them to be great.
For many students, the best path to economic mobility is a four-year college degree. But for others, that plan is not in the cards — for lots of reasons. That isn’t a reflection on aptitude as much as it is social circumstances. We need to do a much better job of opening new and different paths to skill building, higher wages, and career opportunities for these young people. One promising approach is to transform how we think about apprenticeships. Today, Maryland supports thousands of apprenticeship positions focused primarily in the building, contracting, and mechanical trades. These paths to medium and high skill employment are very important, but they should be a starting point for something much bigger.
As technology transforms industries as varied as energy, agriculture, and healthcare, we need to think about taking the idea of a classroom-plus-on-the-job education to the next level. In many new industries, aptitudes and not credentials are in highest demand. And the skill shortages — which are acute in many growth industries — are highly specialized. Companies are begging for more highly skilled workers, regardless of whether they have a conventional degree. In Maryland, our shortage of workers in the skilled trades is leading to out-of-state labor being used to complete key government contractors rather than local labor.
These circumstances are ripe for transforming how we prepare students to enter the workforce by tailoring skill training for particular industries by connecting business directly with our education system. The Germans and the Swiss have built a highly successful form of this model. It starts creating a broad platform of public-private partnerships. The state does more than just sponsor apprentices. A government agency can serve as the key intermediary that connects the projected demands of business for high skill labor with training programs for students that have dynamic curricula that can quickly adapt to offer the right skills at the right time. Companies benefit by getting the skilled workers they need — and they will invest money, workplace training for students, and personnel to participate in the classroom. Business-led apprenticeships take the old idea of learning a trade and applies it across the technology economy to create a new model of higher education that leads to middle-class wages and economic opportunity.
Higher education should be within reach for all of Maryland’s families that want to send their children to college or university. We have one of the finest public university systems in the country in Maryland — an amazing economic and social asset that should be a resource for
everyone. Yet rising tuition costs are a rising barrier to entry for many Marylanders, and the debt load accumulated by students (whether they graduate or not) is daunting. We need to work with our colleges and universities to hold down the cost of tuition through additional resources and strategic investments. And we need to work towards a goal of debt-free college for our students. That means expanding grants and scholarship opportunities for students with significant financial needs. And it means exploring new models of financing higher education that do not lead to crippling debt after graduation. Recent experiments with income sharing agreements — essentially an equity investment that pays for tuition in exchange for a percentage of future income over a period of years — show great promise. These financial instruments are responsive to fluctuation in income and they do not undermine post-graduation creditworthiness. We need to explore a public-private fund to turn student debt into state equity invested in our young people.
For years, we have pushed the mantra on our kids that the path to a middle-class standard of
living and economic mobility was a 4-year college degree. This remains valid — and every young
person that wants a college education should be able to get one. But we must also recognize that labor markets are shifting due to rapid technological change, and college isn’t the only path to a high-paying job. That should be good news for the more than half of Maryland adults that are not college graduates. But these jobs aren’t just there for the taking — they require aptitude, knowledge, skills and training. As a state, we should be the national leader in designing and
retooling advanced vocational training institutions that partner with companies to offer courses
that match the projected needs of growth industries. This requires a comprehensive plan to retool community college and university curricula as well as growing new kinds of educational
opportunities (including accredited technology academies and online learning programs). Our
goal is to generate a variety of training programs other than 4-year degrees that provide pathways to high-wage jobs in businesses undergoing major technological transformation — from energy to agriculture to manufacturing.
There is a big gap in our labor market policy that is failing mid-career professionals that lose their jobs. A generation ago, the path to achieve and maintain a middle-class standard of living was to earn an education and work your way up in a company. Many people expected to stay in their jobs until they retired. Today, this ideal type is the reality for fewer and fewer people. Industries change much more rapidly, driven by technological innovation and automation. People expect to have several jobs between college and retirement. To make that work, they must have the skills to move diagonally across industries, so that career changes aren’t synonymous with starting over on the bottom rung of the ladder. But as careers specialize and technology changes, making that diagonal leap is harder and harder. And neither universities nor apprenticeships nor technology academies are a good fit for mid-career managers and professionals in declining industries.
We can fix this problem. The state can coordinate between companies that need skilled,
experienced workers and help support new forms of job-training courses and institutions that can deliver these capabilities. This doesn’t mean we will train everyone to be a technologist. That’s not the goal here. The idea here is that even technology companies employer mostly nontechnologists — marketers, product managers, business developers, communications and human resource specialists. They are rarely trained technologists. But they must have the skills to work with technologists and master the methods of working in the new economy. This is the skills gap we will bridge in Maryland.
In a resource scarce environment, teachers are asked to do too much for too little money. We do not reward excellence in the classroom, nor do we sufficiently reward the decades long
commitments made by our career educators. There is a clear link between properly compensating our teaching professionals for the work that they do and our ability to retain those outstanding teachers. This, in turn, produces better student outcomes. If we pay our teachers what they deserve and respect them as the professionals that they are, then we will see the return on investment in the form of better educated, more economically resilient young Marylanders.
Additionally, teachers should not be forced to choose between staying in the classroom or
becoming administrators because of financial imperatives at home. We need to increase teacher compensation so that our teachers aren’t forced to leave the classroom in order to solve financial issues.
We need to provide additional support structures to teachers to allow them to provide individualized attention to their students in the classrooms. Because we are in a resource scarce environment, teachers aides and guidance counselors are often the first staff positions to be cut. We need to be increasing the support around teachers and students to allow teachers to do what they do best: educate their students.
Maryland has some of the best teachers in the country, and as we invest more in education, our schools will become more and more attractive to teachers from across the country. Yet Maryland lags behind other states in its acceptance of outstanding teachers that have been certified in other states. We want the best and the brightest to come to our classrooms, and we should have an open door for bringing outstanding new teachers into Maryland. Just as our state tries to attract the best engineers, the best doctors, and the best entrepreneurs to our state — we want to set policies to help any great educator that wants to live in Maryland to find a home and a job here.