Controversy over the education issue arose anew with the advent of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Passed in 2015 under President Obama’s administration, ESSA seeks to improve state accountability and set a standard for the level of education which all students should be able to access. In order to receive federal aid appropriated for this purpose, states are required to send their drafted education plans for review annually to the Department of Education.
After a year of town halls and public hearings held with the purpose of determining what Maryland citizens are looking for in an education plan, the Maryland State Department of Education finally drafted their plan to implement the ESSA.
Governor Hogan however publicly refused to endorse this education plan, arguing that it was ineffective due to the constraints of the Protect Our Schools Act passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. In an letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Hogan expressed these sentiments, writing that no plan could be created under the “impossible circumstances” created by the Act. Although Hogan’s signature is not requisite for the plan to reach the federal government, his refusal to endorse it hinted at the discord between the Republican governor and the Democratic-majority general assembly over the subject of education.
The underpinning of this debate, the Protect Our Schools Act, changed how school performance rankings are determined within school districts—test scores would no longer account for more than 65 percent of a school’s ranking. In response to the growing interest in privatization of education, the act also mandated that the state would not be able to convert schools whose performances fall short into charter or private schools, even through the use of student vouchers.
Drawing from this act, the new education plan also seeks to step away from a predominantly test-oriented student culture and present a more holistic representation of a school’s success. In an interview with ABC, Sean Johnson, legislative director for Maryland State Education Association, said, “The Maryland plan looks at attendance rates, looks at school safety ratings, discipline issues, and looks at a well rounded curriculum, like if students have access to advanced placement courses, access to arts and music, and finance classes.”
Opposing Johnson’s position, Hogan has argued that the new education plan lowers academic accountability, a problem which is exacerbated by the limits placed on the state’s ability to address underperforming schools by the Protect Our Schools Act. A strong bone of contention lies in the plan proposal to ban the use of A to F letter grades, with Hogan protesting that there would be no concrete measures of academic success.
Senior Bobbi Sherman, of Magruder High School, opposes the governor’s decision, saying, “By not signing, it appears that he is choosing to act in the interest of privatization, instead of trying to develop public school systems.” Furthermore, she argued, “While it is clear that Hogan disapproves of the education plan, it is still Hogan’s responsibility to use his power in order to act in the best interest of all students, parents, and school staff.”
Others believe that Governor Hogan was merely doing his duty to prevent hasty and radical legislation from being passed. Junior Luke Xia, of Richard Montgomery High School, asserted, “Especially as a governor, you want to make your opinion and agenda known, so I think it’s good that he definitively declined it, because we have to know what type of governor we have.”
Despite concerns, the Maryland Department of Education submitted the plan for federal review on September 18. With or without governor support, the federal government has yet to disapprove any state’s plan, although it has suggested various changes.
Nevertheless, supporters of the plan are concerned about Hogan’s publicly-voiced disapproval. According to the Baltimore Sun, Delegate Eric Luedtke of Montgomery County stated, “I worry that he’s in a sense encouraging Betsy DeVos to reject the plan, which puts $250 million worth of federal funding at risk.”
For the short-term, Hogan’s refusal to endorse the bill likely has little effect on the likelihood the measures of the bill will be denied. Nevertheless, his dismissal of the education plan effectively casts a shadow over the work of the Maryland General Assembly.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Emily Tian of Richard Montgomery High School