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Wayne A. Hartman: Why I voted against the Kirwan Commission bill

Dear Editor,

Last week House Bill 1300, also known as “The Kirwan Commission” was voted on by the House of Delegates. I voted against this bill and the more than $30 billion price tag to our taxpayers.  My daughter is a schoolteacher and I felt the need to explain my vote to her, and the many other teachers and administrators that I have talked to since being elected.

The Kirwan Commission indicated that 47% of school teachers leave the profession within three years of teaching.  Our teachers are faced with ever-increasing challenges.  Teachers jobs are not simply to teach a curriculum within the walls of a classroom, but also to help students cope with the many struggles they face outside the school.

This often times causes disruptive behaviors.  How can a teacher teach in an unruly environment and be successful?  Kirwan does not address this root issue.

Other issues need to be addressed as well. An amendment to reduce class size to help teachers and promote learning was rejected on party lines. This bill has the potential to grow class size, as stated in a January report.

I researched what is working presently and found in Florida that classes are limited to 18 students in K-3, 22 students in grades 4-8, and a maximum of 25 students in grades 9 – 12.  I shared this with professionals in the state and it made sense to them. This common-sense amendment failed, I don’t understand why.

In the past teachers were rewarded with higher pay for obtaining their master’s degree. To my surprise that is no longer emphasized and is not at all a part of this bill.  I was told that there is no evidence that a master’s degree benefits teachers. The new emphasis is on obtaining National Board Certification (NBC).

If a teacher obtains the NBC, they get a $10,000 pay increase. That grows to a $17,000 increase annually if the teacher is in an underperforming school. This is an education bill that completely undermines the value higher education.

I sounded the alarm to UMES and Salisbury University only to be told that they don’t weigh in on pending legislation. How can we fix the system when everyone must simply fall in line and accept what is handed down? And it gets worse: If this bill is set to raise the standards of teaching why was the requirement for a new teacher to obtain his or her NBC, which is the new standard, taken out of the bill?

Amendments rejected

So many other amendments were rejected that made sense, such as an amendment to require curriculum for teaching financial literacy. That, too, failed.  The list goes on and on.

Early on in this, I talked to Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan himself. I voiced my concern over the current wealth formula for funding our schools. Kirwan assured me that would be addressed, that didn’t happen either.

If Maryland wanted equality, every child in the state would get the same state tax dollar regardless of the county they live in.  It should also be noted that the funding formula was amended to make this more affordable to certain jurisdictions.  What this means is an additional $2 billion is going to a few jurisdictions on our dime.

There are many parts of the bill that I support, including elevating the profession of teaching. However, I don’t support the way it is being done. Kirwan eliminates the local control of our school board. The needs of our children vary from county to county. Let our counties decide how to spend the education money.

The bill does correct the damage that was done to career training in the 1990s when every child had to go to college. There are plenty of unfilled jobs today because we had to eliminate the “stigma” of vocational training back then.

I went to vocational school, prior to my college, and proudly support students who develop a skill and strong work ethic.  This bill supports career and technology education.  However, we can implement this in phases and do it right without jeopardizing the finances of our state.

Before we spend billions of dollars on education, we need to invest in rebuilding our families and allow teachers to teach in an environment conducive to learning. Our teachers have to fill the role of parents as well as that of a teacher. As legislators we need to focus on legislation that supports the family unit and makes children learn responsibility as well as respect for themselves and others.

In summary, I support education, our teachers, and our children in Maryland.  I know firsthand that our teachers work an incredible amount of hours and deserve more pay. It must be done in an effective and responsible way.

The real problem in our schools is not addressed here.  The problem is that our families and family values are eroding.  We must address the discipline issues and the classroom environment to allow our teachers to teach.

Del. Wayne A. Hartman

District 38-C

Wicomico & Worcester counties