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Education a top issue as Democratic candidates for Maryland governor square off in debate

6/7/2022 | Dwight A. Weingarten

Delmarva Now

With just six weeks until Maryland voters will choose their parties’ candidate for governor, a crowded field of Democratic contenders focused on education Monday in a televised debate.

“The pandemic only exacerbated preexisting, long standing educational problems in our state,” said candidate Jon Baron, a former nonprofit executive, at the debate hosted by Maryland Public Television on their Owings Mills campus.

Baron cited national statistics showing that over a quarter of Maryland middle school students are not reading at a basic level and more than a third are not doing basic math.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, who said he’d be the “education governor,” had the debate’s last word, addressing how he would handle the statewide achievement gap before his allotted 45 second remarks were cut short by the moderator in the interest of time.

Despite the crowded field jockeying for position, nearly all eight candidates weighed in on the issue, ranked second (behind crime) in a poll conducted by Goucher College earlier this year.

“COVID has had a major, major exhausting, frustrating impact upon your [education] sector,” state Comptroller Peter Franchot said.

Franchot, who led the field in a recent Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll, pointed to the pressure on schools without adequate substitute teachers and support staff during the pandemic.

Franchot led with 20 percent of pollers for the Democratic primary scheduled for July 19. Former nonprofit executive Wes Moore and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez were the only other candidates polling in double digits, while nearly a third (31 percent) of those polled were undecided.

All three candidates touted their support of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a plan to improve education in the state over the next decade.

“We need someone who will make sure we implement this blueprint,” said Perez, who polled at 12 percent. “The next governor is going to have to be the implementer-in-chief.”

Moore, who received the endorsement of the Maryland State Education Association, said he would work with educators and local elected officials to ensure the blueprint’s implementation.

“I will make sure that the blueprint is fully funded,” said Moore, who polled at 15 percent.

But funding the blueprint is easier said than done, according to the state’s comptroller.

“The money is not there right now,” said Franchot, in a post-debate interview. He said he supports Kirwan (the commission responsible for the blueprint), but he wouldn’t raise taxes.

“One of the things that didn’t come up as much as it should have tonight is: Who’s willing to actually get the additional revenue we need to invest in our highest needs schools?” said King, a former teacher and principal, in a post-debate interview.

He called the blueprint’s recommendations “the floor, not the ceiling,” noting that capital improvements to school buildings are needed across the state and are not addressed by the blueprint. Both King and Jon Baron called for a statewide tutoring corps to help students make up academic ground.

“Provide high quality tutoring to every struggling first and second grader in the entire state of Maryland,” said Baron, calling the program his “top priority as governor.”

“It’s also the most effective tool we have to address COVID-related learning loss,” said the former Clinton administration official, estimating a $200 million price tag for the program, in a post-debate interview.

Monday’s debate was the only scheduled televised debate for the Democratic gubernatorial candidates. A MPT representative said an event is being planned for the Republican candidates, of which there are four, ahead of the July 19 primary. That event is yet to be scheduled.