By ETHAN BARTON, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
Maryland gubernatorial candidates have a variety of strategies for the future of pre-kindergarten and to mitigate the struggle for power between the state and local school systems’ control over teacher evaluation protocols.
Seven major candidates outlined their plans to manage Maryland education issues in response to a Capital News Service questionnaire.
Each of the Democratic candidates favor to expanding pre-K, but vary in their plan, end goal and payment means.
“… We must create a universal, high quality and voluntary pre-K program in Maryland,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
Brown and Democratic opponent Attorney General Doug Gansler both plan to pay for their pre-K strategies through gambling revenue. However, the implementations have marked differences.
Brown’s comprehensive plan would offer half-day pre-K to all four-year-olds by 2018 and would ultimately expand that to full day by 2022.
Gansler’s proposal also will expand half-day programs to full-day and would make programs eligible to a larger, but not universal base by 2015. At that point, the program would expand further only with evidence of success.
“Given the overwhelming evidence in support of early education … It is essential that we increase access to the current pre-K program in Maryland,” Gansler said.
The attorney general also criticized Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, for their expansions’ lofty price tags in comparison to his own.
Mizeur, whose plan would ultimately provide full-day pre-K for all four-year-olds and for certain three-year-olds, pointed out a clear distinction from her opponents’ proposals.
“I would put in place a special pre-K fund, with steady revenue from the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana,” Mizeur said.
The Republican candidates, however, were less specific about their plans for the future of early education.
Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, believes that low-income families need to have pre-K available.
“… The state must be there to assist on a needs first basis,” he said.
Another GOP candidate, Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, also supports early education, but wants further examination before investing taxpayer dollars into such programs.
Additionally, he added: “It is clearly the parents’ responsibility to determine how to address pre-K education.”
Two Republican candidates—Larry Hogan, an Anne Arundel County real estate broker and leader of the conservative advocacy group, and Harford County Executive David Craig—did not offer any plans for a publicly-funded expansion of pre-K.
“I would oppose expanding pre-K just to qualify for federal dollars that disappear in a relatively short period of time and then mandate billions in additional state spending,” Hogan said.
Craig simply doesn’t see the necessity to grow the current program.
“Pre-K is offered all across the state and is administered very well,” Craig said. “Other candidates are not truly offering an improvement, just a headline to their campaign to make people think they are.”
The candidates’ strategies to pacify tension between Maryland’s Department of Education and the local school systems over the development of teacher evaluations were much less comprehensive.
Brown said he supports local autonomy, but that they must be compliant “with state and federal statutes and regulation.” However, some of these regulations, such as the Maryland State Department of Education’s requirement of student assessments carrying at least 20 percent for teacher evaluations, are exactly what strips away local control.
Conversely, Mizeur looks to end “the high stakes testing culture in our state.”
George similarly said: “I believe there must be some outcome based on measurements of student performances, but they should not constitute a significant portion of teacher evaluations.”
Gansler did not specify whether control should be with the state or local systems, but also wanted to take weight away from standardized testing as a means of evaluating teachers, at least during the transition from the current assessments to the new assessments that were pilot tested this spring.
“Waiting a period of years for new assessment results to stabilize before letting the full weight and consequences of the new evaluation system fall on [teachers] is a smart and reasonable way to proceed,” Gansler said. He said he also wants to provide more support to teachers during such a transition.
Hogan was clear, but offered no suggestions: “I err on the side of more local control of our education system. I believe that those who are in front of students everyday understand best how to educate our children.”
Likewise, Craig wants more local control, but gave a better idea of what that means.
“I will ensure that [teacher evaluations are] not done by the state, but by superintendents and principals,” he said.
Lollar wants teachers to be “reviewed primarily by their senior professionals,” but did not specify who that entailed or on what level.
The Maryland primary elections are June 24.