People who spoke to Montgomery County’s state legislative delegation during a virtual hearing Thursday had a clear priority: overturn Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the Kirwan Commission bill that eventually would set aside $4 billion annually for education reform.
Hogan vetoed the legislation, formally known as the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” in May after the General Assembly passed it during its 2020 session. Hogan said at the time that the “economic fallout” from the COVID-19 pandemic made it “impossible” to fund new programs or tax hikes.
On Thursday night, members of the public gave a wish list of priorities they hope to see the delegation tackle during the upcoming session, which starts Jan. 13. Each year, the delegation invites the public to share its ideas and concerns.
A number of Montgomery County Public Schools students were among those who spoke during the virtual hearing.
Aaron Tiao, a sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, urged the delegation to overturn Hogan’s veto of the Kirwan bill, arguing that it will help provide funding for more counselors, career pathways for low-income students and other services.
“I am beyond grateful that I am blessed to have all of these resources and opportunities, but I cannot stand idly by while my peers and other schools do not have the same educational experience, simply because of where they live,” Tiao said.
“This bill will not solve every problem low-income students face, but it will bring us closer than ever before to our goal of equity in education in Maryland.”
Allyson Bennett, a junior at BCC, said passing the Kirwan bill is badly needed, although she understands Hogan’s fiscal concerns.
“The override of this veto will help fund the economy, bring us closer to educational equity, and better support our state educators,” she said.
Marijke Friedman, a junior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, said the Kirwan plan is needed to help correct inequities in the school system, particularly in opportunities for minority students.
“We can drastically improve our schools by investing in them and by giving students the resources that they need to be successful,” she said.
Laura Stewart, the vice president of advocacy for the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, said Thursday that the impact of the pandemic necessitates passing the Kirwan plan.
“In order to recover from the learning loss which has hit some communities more than others, we will need the blueprint resources for mental health services, more tutoring support, more teachers, expanded pre-K and to help deliver a challenging, culturally relevant curriculum,” she said.
Stewart also advocated for more funding for upgraded air filter and HVAC systems for MCPS, so that the improvements can be made before in-person learning resumes. She said the County Council didn’t provide the full funding necessary for the improvements.
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith and Board of Education President Shebra Evans also advocated for the passage of the Kirwan plan.
Smith added that he is worried about the school system’s declining enrollment during the pandemic, because school systems depend on enrollment for funding.
“The ability to serve our students and our continued focus on equity with laser-like attention, as well as our ability to serve students when they return to the system after the pandemic is under control, is truly in jeopardy,” Smith said.
Smith added that he and Evans want the legislature to “look at maintenance of effort funding and the funding structures” in the state. Maintenance of effort refers to a requirement for a local school system to provide at least the same level of per-pupil funding from one year to the next.
County Executive Marc Elrich said he also wants the legislature to overturn Hogan’s veto. He said the pandemic has “laid bare many of these inequities in our society” when it comes to education.
Additionally, Elrich said he wants the delegation to support legislation that would support a “community choice energy program.”
“This is important if we’re gonna meet our climate goals,” he said. “We need to take definitive actions on energy in order to reduce greenhouse gases.”
County Council President Sidney Katz said on Thursday that in addition to environment and education funding, the county’s priorities also include changes to policing and advocating for people with disabilities.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org