Tag Archives: education

Increasing Access to Higher Education in Montgomery County: An Economic Imperative

By Michael Knapp, Chair, Montgomery College Board of Trustees.

Since the presidential campaigns of 2016, candidates for numerous state and local offices have identified providing free access to college as a campaign issue that polls well, primarily because of high cost of college.  Unfortunately there have been very few candidates who have actually thought through the practical elements of what this means: What do you pay for – tuition only? Who is eligible? What schools are included? And most important, how is it paid for?  As the Maryland General Assembly goes into session this week and we begin an historic election year in Montgomery County, we wanted to raise this important issue and provide some perspective on how it can be considered.

At Montgomery College, providing affordable access isn’t a poll-tested tagline, it’s an economic imperative without which our community and residents won’t grow to meet the needs of the future.  We know that without a skilled workforce our employers can’t grow and without clear career pathways into the workforce most residents won’t be able to move into jobs that provide a wage that will allow them to live in our community.  As a result, we take this discussion very seriously and have given a great deal of thought about how to make increasing access a reality for thousands of members of our community.

With an issue this important, there must be a framework of key principles to form a foundation on which to build such a plan. We see those as the following.

  • Any program will require significant public and private investment, and there must be a clearly defined return on investment that includes providing clear pathways for students into the workforce and a pipeline of skilled workers for local employers.
  • Increasing access to college for students often requires considering more than just free or reduced tuition — it may mean providing assistance with transportation, childcare, food, and housing.
  • Free isn’t free — all students must be willing to provide a measurable contribution to their own success in return for increased access.
  • The path to higher education and the resources needed must be clear and transparent so that all who are interested can readily take advantage.
  • The program must be sustainable — there must an identified and consistent source of revenue to make this program reality each year.
  • Success must be defined and the outcomes measured.

We know that at least 65 percent of all jobs require an education beyond high school and that, in a community like Montgomery County with such a high cost of living; it is an imperative to ensure that residents have ready access to the skills needed by local employers.  In addition, the goal set by the College and Career Readiness and College Completion Act of 2013 is that 55 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 will hold an at least an associate’s degree by 2025, and this degree must be able to assist residents in obtaining skills employers need.  Yet, even with the vital importance of this type of program it is also critical that this not be just another debt that will be borne by the students or the community to pay later—there must be a real and sustainable funding source.  We have explored models throughout the nation and are developing a series of recommendations to present for consideration with our civic, political, and business leadership.  The important thing to note is that there are innovative strategies that we can use to implement this program beyond just raising taxes on our residents.

Montgomery County’s economic and wage growth has slowed, and we are on the verge of an election season that will have an unprecedented number of candidates seeking local and state elected office.  Now is the time to have a real conversation about how to provide increased access to higher education for the benefit of our community.  Our ability to get this done will have a lasting impact on the lives of our residents and our local economy — the leadership of Montgomery College is committed to working with all interested parties in making this critical concept a reality, provided that they are committed to a real dialogue that addresses the principles we’ve outlined and not just looking for an easy sound bite.

Michael Knapp served on the Montgomery County Council from 2002 through 2010.

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Hogan’s Campaign Against Public Schools

By Adam Pagnucco.

Governor Larry Hogan is the most dedicated opponent of Maryland public schools in recent memory.  And now, new rankings of states in a respected education publication show how effective he has been.

Education Week, which ranks public school systems by state, rated Maryland’s public schools as fifth in the nation as of 2017.  That’s a decent rank, except when you consider that the publication rated Maryland number one every year from 2009 through 2013.  Maryland scored particularly low on its achievement gap between low-income and high-income students, ranked as 42nd in the country.

The decline in the state’s ranking is no surprise since it’s perfectly consistent with Governor Hogan’s record on public schools.  Consider what he has done in his first two years in office.

  1. He cut public school funding in his first budget.

The Governor of Maryland has enormous budgetary powers under the state’s constitution.  When he submits an operating budget to the General Assembly, the state legislators generally cannot add spending to it – they can only set aside spending for particular purposes or cut it.  Over the years, the General Assembly has established funding formulas for certain spending items in state law, and that includes most state aid programs for K-12 education.  But the Governor identified one program that was not protected by state law – a program that sent extra money to school systems with higher costs of educating students.  The Governor cut half of that money, a total of $68 million, in his very first budget.  Here are the counties that were affected and their dollar losses:

Prince George’s: $20 million

Montgomery: $18 million

Baltimore City: $12 million

Anne Arundel: $5 million

Frederick: $3 million

Baltimore County: $3 million

Howard: $3 million

Others: $4 million

Note that almost three-quarters of the cuts applied to three jurisdictions: Prince George’s, Montgomery and the City.  What do they have in common?  You guessed it: they all voted against Hogan by large margins.

Hogan resisted calls from the General Assembly to restore the cuts, so they passed a law making the program mandatory.  Hogan waved the white flag of surrender, admitting that he did not have the votes to sustain a veto.  If he had gotten them, those cuts would have continued every single year.

  1. He withheld teacher pension aid for counties in his second budget.

Since FY2013, counties have been responsible for paying part of the cost of teacher pension funding, with the remainder covered by the state.  After passage of his second budget, Hogan withheld $19 million in state aid the General Assembly set aside to help counties pay for teacher pensions, a move that threatened their credit ratings.  Here are the counties that were affected and their dollar losses:

Montgomery: $6 million

Howard: $2 million

Baltimore County: $2 million

Anne Arundel: $2 million

Prince George’s: $1 million

Frederick: $1 million

Others: $5 million

Ultimately, Hogan agreed to release the money but only when the General Assembly agreed to provide an equal amount in corporate welfare to Northrop Grumman, one of Hogan’s top policy priorities.  What kind of Governor plays games with school funding in order to get more money for corporate welfare?

  1. He is jamming public school boards with public school skeptics.

As Governor, Hogan has the power to appoint members of the State Board of Education as well as numerous local school boards.  He has used that prerogative to stack these boards with skeptics of public schools.  The President and Vice-President of the State Board of Education, both Hogan appointees, are nationally-known promoters of charter schoolsOther State Board appointees are a religious school principal and “a consultant who works on charter school conversions.”  It is no coincidence that the State Board is now considering an expansion of vouchers for private schools.  Another Hogan appointee is Ann Miller of the Baltimore County school board, who has a history of criticizing LGBT people and immigrants.  Another Baltimore County school board appointee, retired private school teacher and non-voter June Eaton, was asked by the Baltimore Sun “if she had any public school issues that needed to be addressed.”  Eaton replied, “I really haven’t given it much thought. This is all new to me.”

  1. He is pushing hard for tax dollars to be sent to private schools.

At the same time that Hogan has been trying to cut funding for public schools, he is doing everything in his power to send tax dollars to private schools.  Last year, he got the General Assembly to agree to $5 million in funding for vouchers.  Now, he is pushing to expand the program to $10 million.  The Governor continues to support a corporate tax credit for businesses contributing to private schools and introduced a bill that would have allowed charter schools to compete for state public school construction funding.

Hogan’s behavior is straight out of the playbook of Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos: starve public schools and send the money to the private sector.  Hogan even put his own twist on it by using public school money as a bargaining chip to get corporate welfare for defense behemoth Northrop Grumman.  The Governor’s intentions are beyond doubt.  Only one question remains.

Can he be stopped?

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No More LGBT Questions from the Catholic Conference

The Maryland Catholic Conference Questionnaire for General Assembly candidates no longer includes questions about marriage equality or other LGBT issues. Perhaps this reflects the very welcome tolerant attitude of Pope Francis, who inspires and gives hope to many of all faiths. I suspect that the definitive vote of the people in 2012 also played a role.

They still ask about other issues, such as abortion rights and physician-assisted suicide. with the “correct” answer being the more conservative. The Catholic Conference is also still hoping for a tax break for nonprofits that donate to private, including Catholic, schools. The Teachers Union and other public education advocates have opposed this in the past.

We’re lucky to have an excellent public school system in Montgomery but I know the Catholic school system has provided a vital alternative for many in D.C. However, I suspect that these schools would not be the major beneficiary of the proposed tax break that would take money out of the budget that could be used to fund public education.

The Catholic Conference is hoping for liberal answers on assistance for the poor and immigration. I wonder how many legislators from either party score a perfect 5 out of 5? Here is a copy of the survey:

Please mark whether you “agree” or “disagree” with each statement.

These responses will be included in the Catholic diocesan newspapers and materials distributed to the parishes. Comments following each statement are limited to 50 words or less.

These comments, along with the responses, will be included online on the newspaper websites and the Conference website, and will not be edited for grammar or spelling.

1. ASSISTANCE FOR THE POOR. Funding in Maryland’s budget to provide necessities such as food, housing, and healthcare to low-income residents of the state should be maintained at current levels, or increased where possible to accommodate increasing demand for basic services.

2. LATE-TERM ABORTION. Current Maryland law allows abortions to be performed after fetal viability in the case of fetal abnormalities, or to protect the life or health of the mother, including mental health. Maryland law should be changed to allow late-term abortions only to protect a woman from death or serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment.

3. IMMIGRATION. Maryland should not pass laws restricting the ability of undocumented immigrants to access basic necessities, such as food, shelter, driving privileges, healthcare, and education.

4. TAX CREDITS FOR EDUCATION. Maryland should enact a state income tax credit for businesses that donate to nonprofit organizations that provide financial assistance to public and nonpublic school students for educational expenses.

5. PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE. Maryland should maintain its current law prohibiting physician-assisted suicide.

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