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Maryland voters say public school education lags behind

Photo credit: Thad Zajdowicz/Flickr/Creative Commons
Thad Zajdowicz
Photo credit: Thad Zajdowicz/Flickr/Creative Commons

The majority of Democrats and Republicans statewide polled by Goucher College said they worry about the quality of the K-12 school system.

About 62 percent of Republicans alongside 63 percent of Democrats said the quality of public school education in the state is a major concern, according to a mid-June poll conducted by Goucher College in partnership with WYPR and The Baltimore Banner.

Voters raised alarm bells about a variety of issues including school budgets, overspending, lack of building maintenance and even allegedly falsified grades in schools across Baltimore city.

Beyond that, Republican Sabino Epiceno in Prince George’s County, said teacher quality is his biggest concern.

“My daughter, for her freshman year of high school, had a Spanish teacher that doesn't speak Spanish. How can you teach a language that you don't even speak?,” said Epiceno.

Some Democratic voters told pollsters that teachers face real challenges in the classroom, but were frustrated about students moving up grade levels without required knowledge.

Republican Kim Mallory in Queen Anne’s County wants to see everyone in the state get involved and focus on resolving issues in the public school system.

“It's one thing not to have a college education, but it's completely another not to have a high school degree and there's no reason why citizens of Maryland shouldn't be getting those and receiving a real education,” Mallory said.

Students who graduate from high school in the state should have basic life skills, she said.

“To do things like read and find a job on their own,” she said.

Voters were concerned about school districts spending so much taxpayer money per student without reaping the benefits of improved test scores and grades.

Funding for elementary schools, which typically educate pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students, varied widely across the state.

Edgewood Elementary School in Baltimore City spent $22,981 per student during the 2018-2019 school year according to state spending data. In Baltimore County, Deer Park Elementary spent $14,257 per student while Calverton Elementary in Prince George’s County spent $12,368 per student.

On June 21, The Fund for Educational Excellence, an independent nonprofit organization working to close the equity and opportunity gaps in Baltimore City Public Schools, and Baltimoreans for Educational Equity, a collective fighting for equity in education hosted a forum with gubernatorial candidates to gauge their priority to funding and improving education in Maryland.

Candidates were provided with a questionnaire to better understand their views on issues related to education. Nine out of the 14 candidates responded.

Jamal Turner, vice chair for Baltimoreans for Educational Equity, said the purpose of the questionnaire was to help the community hold candidates accountable.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and former educator John King received the highest score.

Ruth Farfel, manager of analysis and engagement for The Fund for Educational Excellence, said the scoring rubric was based on how well candidates answers aligned with issues important to the organization.

“We tried to be as objective as possible. We didn't move the goalposts for anyone based on personal preference,” Farfel said.

The scores are a tool to help people make a decision and the organization encourages voters to read the responses from candidates and come to their own conclusions.

If Maryland’s next governor isn’t focused on educational issues, he won’t be the first, Turner said.

“We'll do what we've always done, which is make sure that we champion, we collaborate, align with coalition members, and we fight to get the things done for our kids,” he said.

The Fund for Educational Excellence and Baltimoreans for Educational Equity’s primary goal is for the next governor to be willing to listen and foster a relationship with them in order to improve public school education.

“We can hopefully have a direct line to be able to address some of the issues that we uncover within our community meetings, and also be able to properly provide all the resources that our youth need,” Turner said.

See full poll results here.

Zshekinah Collier is WYPR’s 2022-2023 Report for America Corps Member, where she covers Education. @Zshekinahgf
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