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Hogan, Jealous use start of school year to highlight education plans

Gov. Larry Hogan, with Education Secretary Karen Salmon behind him, announces his plans to create and Office of Education Accountability. (Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan, with State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon behind him, announces his plans to create and Office of Education Accountability. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — As children headed off to their first day of school across the state, Maryland’s two major party candidates marked the day with separate education announcements and noting the lack of climate control in some classrooms.

In Baltimore, Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee, offered help to teachers who will dip into their own pockets for supplies not covered by the state’s school systems. Nearly an hour south, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order creating an education watchdog he said would help root out corruption and unethical behavior in public school systems.

“There is a persistent and alarming lack of accountability in school systems across the state, and it cannot and it will not be tolerated by our administration,” said Hogan. “Not addressing it would mean failing the Maryland taxpayers who are paying for it. More importantly, it would mean responsible adults are failing our children. Especially the ones who need our help the most.”

Hogan, who said Maryland is the second worst in the nation in terms of school accountability, said the independent watchdog was necessary because the public has lost confidence in public schools systems in the wake of scandals that include the perjury conviction of former Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance; federal corruption charges against Robert Barrett, a former adviser in the Baltimore County Public School system; and concerns about grade fixing in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County.

“The status quo is simply not good enough for Maryland’s children,” said Hogan.

The creation of the new office, which Hogan said would act as an independent watchdog, lacks key investigative powers, including the power to subpoena, that the governor included in legislation earlier this year. Hogan said he would introduce the bill again in January and predicted lawmakers would pass it this time.

“I think the legislature is going to pass a lot of things they were reluctant to pass before when we get back in January, and I think we’re going to have the bully pulpit and a lot of people out there helping us,” said Hogan.

Hogan tapped Valerie Radomsky to be the director of the Office of Education Accountability. She is a former Baltimore County teacher who served first as Comptroller Peter Franchot’s senior education policy adviser and more recently as Franchot’s Board of Public Works coordinator.

Political opponents were quick to criticize Hogan and his newly created position calling it “window dressing.”

“Everything he is proposing are things that existing state agencies that work for him have the power to do, and if they’re not doing them, the buck stops at his desk,” said Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery. “It duplicates bureaucracy.”

Luedtke said Hogan’s bill proposed earlier this year failed to standardize “a mishmash” of rules that vary by jurisdiction.

“I think we’re going to see some legislation on ethics, on accountability but, we’ll take a look at the governor’s bill,” said Luedtke.

Hogan countered that “no one is doing” what he has proposed.

“All things I mentioned today, all the compiling of all the data, the tip line, providing all this information, isn’t being done anywhere,” said Hogan.

Jealous, speaking in Baltimore, called for more money for education, including the creation of a fund to help teachers pay for school supplies not funded by public school systems around the state.

“Teachers are taking money out of their own pockets, far more than they’ll ever get reimbursed even after they check the boxes on their tax forms by the federal and state government,” Jealous said during a stop at Garrett Heights Elementary and Middle Schools in Baltimore city Tuesday.

The fund would be paid for through a checkbox on state tax returns that would allow taxpayers the opportunity to voluntarily contribute an amount of their choosing.

Ben Jealous, shown campaigning earlier this year, is proposing a check-off box that will allow Maryland taxpayers to contribute money to help teachers defray their personal costs of providing supplies to students. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Ben Jealous, shown campaigning earlier this year, is proposing a check-off box that will allow Maryland taxpayers to contribute money to help teachers defray their personal costs of providing supplies to students. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Jealous said the fund allow teachers to be reimbursed “more and reimbursed sooner.”

Such a fund appears likely to return only a small fraction of what teachers shell out on their own.

Teachers are expected to spend an average of $479 each on supplies for their classes, according to data released in May by the National Center on Education Statistics. That means Maryland’s roughly 59,000 teachers could spend an estimated $28.3 million this year.

“The exact amount of revenue is difficult to ascertain in the early stages of the program, which is why the purpose of the fund is to be a first step toward alleviating this burden while we work toward fully funding education so that it’s no longer necessary for such high rates of teachers to use their own personal funds on school supplies,” sad Jerusalem Demsas, a Jealous campaign spokeswoman. “We also know that not every teacher will apply for the funds, but for those that do, having a fund with additional millions of dollars in it will be a huge help.”

Creation of a new check off would require legislative approval.

Maryland currently has four funds to which taxpayers can voluntarily contribute. Those funds brought in nearly $1.7 million combined in tax year 2017 or about $28.81 per teacher if this amount were fully channeled into Jealous’ proposed school fund.

Of those, the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund is the largest recipient. Taxpayers contributed more than $897,000 in tax year 2017 and nearly $2.2 million over the last three tax years, according to figures released by the Office of the Comptroller.

A fund for publicly financed political campaigns, created in 2015, brought in less than $98,000 for tax year 2017 and $222,155 over the last three tax years, according to figures released by the Office of the Comptroller.


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