Ho­gan scorns schools plan

Gover­nor says rules for low-per­form­ers ‘pre­serve status quo’

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Liz Bowie and Pamela Wood

Gov. Larry Ho­gan is re­fus­ing to en­dorse the Mary­land school board’s plan for help­ing low-per­form­ing schools, say­ing state board mem­bers were ham­strung by a new law lim­it­ing what the plan can in­clude.

The Gen­eral As­sem­bly passed leg­is­la­tion this year that lim­its ways the state can try to re­form its low­est-per­form­ing schools — those in the bot­tom 5 per­cent. The Repub­li­can gover­nor ve­toed that bill, but the Demo­cratic- con­trolled leg­is­la­ture over­rode him.

In a let­ter sent this week to U.S. Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos, Ho­gan wrote that the state board could not craft a suf­fi­cient plan un­der the “im­pos­si­ble cir­cum­stances” im­posed by the state law. All states must sub­mit plans for im­prov­ing low­per­form­ing schools to com­ply with the fed­eral Every Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act.

Ho­gan’s sig­na­ture is not re­quired for state ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials to send the plan to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for re­view. They still in­tend to sub­mit the plan Mon­day, a spokesman for the Mary­land State De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion said.

The Pro­tect Our Schools Act passed by the As­sem­bly this year pro­hibits the state school board from re­quir­ing test scores to count for more than 65 per­cent of a school’s per­for­mance rank­ing. And it would pre­vent the state from tak­ing sev­eral ac­tions to im­prove those schools, in­clud­ing con­vert­ing them to char­ter schools, bring­ing in pri­vate man­age­ment, giv­ing the stu­dents vouch­ers to at­tend pri­vate schools or putting the schools into a spe­cial statewide “re­cov­ery” school dis­trict.

In a let­ter to state school board President Andy Smar­ick, Ho­gan wrote that the leg­is­la­tion re­sulted in a plan that will pre­serve “the status quo in fail­ing schools.”

But some ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cates were quick to crit­i­cize the gover­nor for not back­ing the school board’s plan.

By not sup­port­ing the plan, Ho­gan is dis­re­gard­ing months of feed­back from par­ents and non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, said Sean John­son, leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, the union for pub­lic school teachers.

“I hope the strong sup­port from all of Larry Ho­gan

those stake­hold­ers makes clear that Mary­land is re­ally com­mit­ted to mean­ing­ful and pos­i­tive ed­u­ca­tion re­forms — even if it’s not the privatization and test-and-pun­ish ap­proach that I guess Larry Ho­gan would rather cham­pion,” John­son said.

Some state school board mem­bers, nearly all of whom were ap­pointed by Ho­gan, have chafed at the leg­is­la­tion and sup­ported Ho­gan’s veto.

Some mem­bers had sug­gested us­ing more rad­i­cal mea­sures to re­form fail­ing schools, in­clud­ing turn­ing them over to char­ter school op­er­a­tors.

Smar­ick said although mem­bers dis­agreed with the Pro­tect Our Schools Act, they “had to fol­low the let­ter of the state and fed­eral law. That was our job.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader J.B. Jen­nings said the state law un­fairly lim­its op­tions for im­prov­ing strug­gling schools.

“The Demo­cratic lead­er­ship pushed through a hor­ri­ble piece of leg­is­la­tion that, in my mind, didn’t put kids first. It put spe­cial in­ter­ests first,” said Jen­nings, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents parts of Har­ford and Bal­ti­more coun­ties.

The U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­views each state’s plan for im­prov­ing strug­gling schools and can rec­om­mend changes.

Though Ho­gan’s sig­na­ture is not re­quired on the doc­u­ment, its ab­sence will sig­nal to fed­eral of­fi­cials that he doesn’t sup­port it.

“I worry that he’s, in a sense, en­cour­ag­ing Betsy DeVos to re­ject the plan, which puts $250 mil­lion worth of fed­eral fund­ing at risk,” said Del. Eric Luedtke, a lead spon­sor of the Pro­tect Our Schools Act. He’s also a for­mer pub­lic school teacher. DeVos has been a cham­pion of of­fer­ing fam­i­lies al­ter­na­tives to tra­di­tional neigh­bor­hood pub­lic schools, such as char­ter schools and vouch­ers that al­low stu­dents to at­tend pri­vate schools.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment so far has not re­jected any state plans, but has sug­gested changes to some.

“More fun­da­men­tally, he’s kind of dou­bling down on this right-wing school re­form agenda,” said Luedtke, a Mont­gomery County Demo­crat.

“I think some­body needs to ex­plain to the gover­nor there are more ways to im­prove schools than privatization.”

Sen. Craig Zucker, an­other spon­sor of Pro­tect Our Schools, sug­gested that the gover­nor is fa­vor­ing pol­i­tics over school­child­ren.

“This has al­ways been about Mary­land ed­u­ca­tors and Mary­land stu­dents. This isn’t about the gover­nor. This is about the fu­ture of our chil­dren,” said Zucker, a Mont­gomery County Demo­crat.

“This was a well-thought-out piece of leg­is­la­tion where Mary­land can be a leader in terms of ed­u­ca­tion re­form.”

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