Can an Anti-Kirwan Democrat Win the Gubernatorial Primary?
Franchot bucks Maryland’s Teachers Union
Peter Franchot, Maryland State Comptroller and Democratic candidate for Governor, has staked out an educational position dramatically at odds with his party's other candidates and, most notably, the state's powerful teacher's union.
For several years, Maryland's teachers' union's top priority has been ramping up state spending to fund the Kirwan Commission's K-12 education recommendations. The price tag totals a staggering $32 billion over the next decade. The eventual spending target hits $3.8 billion more per year. The charge exceeds $5,000 for each Marylander when dividing Kirwan's total cost among 6 million people. Paying for the proposals would require a 39% increase in the personal income tax, an 89% increase in the sales tax, or a 535% increase in the state property tax.[i]
While routinely expressing support for some of the education reforms floated by the Kirwan Commission, Franchot has repeatedly opposed additional taxes to pay for them, suggesting, "Yes, we can (improve schools), but we can do it within our existing budgets.[ii] Earlier this year, after Governor Hogan vetoed Kirwan legislation, Franchot suggested scrapping it: "It's not only bad timing and bad process, it's just out of date."[iii]
Elaborating on his ideas for educational accountability, Franchot told the Baltimore Fishbowl: "..the overall issue of schools in Baltimore City, I just simply do not see it as a resource problem. Fundamentally, it is a management administrative oversight issue. And it requires people who are elected and people that are appointed to do their jobs. And sitting back and saying, Oh, well the infrastructure is crumbling, and, We're not getting enough money–I don't mind putting more resources into education in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. But first, there's gotta be an improvement in how you spend it. That's my view. And I think education improvement will flow from that."[iv]
Franchot's Kirwan reservations are very well-founded. To date, the political campaign for Kirwan has relied on the repetition of misinformation about Maryland's schools. For example, far from being underfunded, Maryland spends 22% more than the national average per pupil. Neither are Maryland's teachers underpaid. Per pupil, Maryland teachers are paid 28% more than the national average.[v]
Neither are Maryland's poorest jurisdictions inadequately funded or unfairly treated by current school funding formulas. Per pupil, Baltimore City spends 10% more than the state average and gets 79% of its budget from federal/state sources; Prince George's County spends 5% more than average and gets 64% of its budget from federal/state sources.[vi]
While Kirwan would spend heavily to expand pre-K programs, studies have repeatedly found that pre-K does not improve student outcomes beyond the first few grades.[vii] After over five decades of serving millions of disadvantaged children, Head Start should have finally cracked the code in developing a successful pre-K formula that could provide long-term benefits. Instead, repeated studies have reached a similar conclusion, a result now referred to in the literature as the “Head Start Fade.”[viii]
There's very little accountability for performance in Kirwan. Annual spending for "Governance and Accountability" is less than one-tenth of one percent of the plan's budget, and the metrics to be used are vague. Even more importantly, Kirwan chose to ignore school choice, which is the key to empowering poorer parents and addressing education inequality.
Among the Democratic contenders for Governor, Tom Perez has picked up the most union endorsements to date. [ix] However, educational unions, including the powerful Maryland State Education Association, have yet to weigh in. When they do, they are unlikely to be forgiving of Peter Franchot's Kirwan apostasy.
[viii] Valerie E. Lee; Susanna Loeb (Spring 1995). “Where Do Head Start Attendees End up? One Reason Why Preschool Effects Fade Out”. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 17 (1): 62–82. ; S. Barnett (Winter 1995). “Long Term Effects of Early Childhood Programs on Cognitive and School Outcomes”. The Future of Children. 5 (3): 25–50.