As a first-generation American who put himself through college at Brown University with the help of Pell grants and working on the back of a garbage truck, Tom is committed to the belief that providing equal access to a high-quality education for all Marylanders is a necessity. Tom has worked tirelessly throughout his life to ensure that everyone has a shot at the American Dream, and without equal access to a quality education, that is not possible.
Maryland has some of the best educational systems in the country, yet we are still leaving people behind. Equity in education must be a critical priority in Maryland. All children in our state deserve the opportunity to have a quality education that allows them to grow and thrive, yet there are many students within Maryland without this opportunity, whether due to unequal funding of school districts, lack of sufficient school construction funding, a lack of diversity in our educators, or a failure to sufficiently support families and communities through our schools. In order to ensure equal access, Tom will work to fully fund the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, ensure that our teachers are being paid fair and competitive wages, as well as increase access to early childhood education.
Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act:
A 2016 study found that Maryland was underfunding schools statewide by $2.9 billion annually, averaging $2 million per school. Additionally, the Education Trust found in a 2017 study that the two most underfunded districts were also the two districts with the highest populations of Black and Brown students. The Maryland State Public Education funding formula has not been updated since 2002, and since then, the number of students receiving special education services has increased significantly and the number of English language learners has nearly doubled. Maryland’s poorest school districts receive 5 percent less state and local education funding than Maryland’s wealthiest districts, which puts Maryland near the bottom of the country for funding poor districts and affluent districts equitably. These studies led to the formation of the Kirwan Commission which brought forth recommendations on both funding and policy, intended to work in tandem. These recommendations became the foundation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act.
The major policy areas of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future include:
- Early Childhood Education - expansion of programs with financial supports to reduce barriers to access and increase early interventions as well as increased funding for Judy Centers, providing family supports and wraparound services
- Special Populations - increased funding and support for Special Education and English Language Learners, mental and behavioral health services, community school programs, and wraparound services, including school-based health clinics.
- High Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders - recruitment of Black and Brown educators, especially from HBCUs, adjustment of promotion ladder to include supports to become a National Board Certified Teacher and administrator, increased teacher salary, improved teacher preparation programs
- College and Career Readiness (CCR) - CCR standards beginning in 9th grade, increased funding for CTE programs, increased dual enrollment partnerships
- Accountability and Governance - creation of an Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB) to perform oversight and routine maintenance to the formula and policy
- Increase in per-pupil funding from $7,991 in 2022 to $12,365 in 2033 to address technology, broadband, and IT needs as well as faster implementation of Concentration of Poverty Grants
In the 2021 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Hogan’s veto and passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act, which will transform Maryland’s schools and promote equity within Maryland’s education system. Because of this landmark legislation, the lives of generations of Marylanders will be improved.
However, significant hurdles remain, and Tom is committed to using this momentum to continue to create a stronger, more equitable education system in Maryland by continuing to expand early childhood education, committing to fully fund our education system, ensuring our low-income school districts do not get left behind, and paying our educators what they deserve.
Teacher recruitment and retention have become a major issue in Maryland. 40 percent of teachers leave the field within their first five years, with the average teaching career lasting nine years. High turnover hurts students because it causes understaffing and a lack of experienced teachers, especially in low-income neighborhoods. Maryland public school teachers make comparatively less than public school teachers in neighboring states and certainly less than teachers in top-performing school systems. Jobs within the education system require working long hours and often being unpaid for extra hours worked while at home trying to prep and plan their lessons. Additionally, teachers spend on average at least $500 per year of their own money for supplies that are necessary for their students' success. We must take care of our teachers by paying them equitable and professional salaries.
Early Childhood Education:
Access to early childhood education (ECE) and prekindergarten has a significant impact on the life trajectory of children. In addition to providing a strong foundation for future academic success, ECE provides access to early interventions for Special Education, English Language Learning, and behavioral health needs that can be supported throughout a child’s academic years as a result of early detection. However, access to ECE has financial and racial barriers. According to a study conducted by the Center for American Progress, “By the time children enter kindergarten at age 5, only 48 percent of poor children are ready for school, compared with 75 percent of moderate- or high-income children. Among poor children, 30 percent score low on reading readiness and 26 percent lack readiness in math skills.” Maryland currently does not have universal pre-K, but it has been found that jurisdictions that have invested in early childhood education or universal pre-K see positive impacts even outside of education, including in economic development and public safety. Tom believes that equal access to ECE throughout the entire state of Maryland is necessary and the benefits would reach beyond just those seen within the education system.
Overpopulation & School Construction:
6 out of every 10 parents with children 18 or younger in Maryland believe crowded classrooms are a problem in their schools. Counties such as Montgomery County, one of the largest school systems in the country and the largest in Maryland, as well as Baltimore County and Howard County, continue to see a rapid influx in student enrollment each year, which forces the systems to find new ways to combat overcrowding each year.l in poor condition and in dire need of renovation or replacement. Without significant school expansion and construction, then students will continue to be at a major disadvantage. Inadequate school infrastructure causes difficult learning conditions and poor performance. Funding for school construction in Maryland will alleviate the problem of overcrowding in schools, which will allow more students the opportunity to have a high-quality education.
Educational equity means that all children should have the opportunity to reach their highest potential for success in school. Poor conditions of schools, lack of funding, and overall inadequately resourced school systems, lead to higher rates of absenteeism or drop-out, lower student performance and achievements, higher turnover of teachers, and even poor health outcomes. In Maryland, the two most underfunded districts also happen to be the two districts with the highest populations of Black and Brown students.
Full implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future will go a long way toward advancing equity in our schools. In addition, we must continue to promote innovative solutions to educational equity.
Tom believes in the community school model because we can build healthier and more equitable communities by having an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement. Our children need to know that they are safe within their school, but also within their communities, and better integrating our schools more with our communities will lead to improved learning, as well as stronger and healthier communities. Not only will community schools create safe spaces for our students, but they also increase the opportunity for families to be actively involved in their children’s education, which further helps students prepare to graduate and go on to college or a career path.
We must also work to promote diversity among our educators. About 50 percent of Maryland K-12 public school students are Black or Latino, yet only 20 percent of our teachers are Black or Latino. One in every five schools in Maryland does not have a single Black teacher, and almost half of the schools throughout the state don't have Latino teachers. In addition, over 13,000 Black students and 31,000 Latino students attend schools that do not employ any teachers of their race. Students of all backgrounds are missing out on the many benefits of having a racially diverse educator workforce. There is significant research that shows that students of color, especially those in at-risk or low-income school districts, benefit from seeing role models of their race in a position of authority. Students of color who have a teacher of their same race tend to do better academically, and they are even more likely to graduate and go on to a 4-year college. Diversity in teachers can also help to foster a positive school climate for all students.
Maryland is lucky to be home to four historically black colleges and universities that benefit our state economically, academically, and socially. HBCUs in Maryland generate stronger growth and more vibrant communities. In total, Maryland’s four HBCUs, generate $1 billion in economic impact, create 9,327 jobs, and the total lifetime earnings of graduates exceed $9.5 billion. In April, Maryland reached a $577 million settlement to end a 15-year-old federal lawsuit that accused the state of providing inequitable resources to its four historically Black colleges and universities. This settlement was a necessary first-step in ensuring that our state’s HBCU’s receive the equitable funding that they deserve. Our state must continue to fully fund HBCU’s to ensure that all college students in Maryland have the opportunity and chance to succeed.
Community Colleges & Career Technology Education:
Tom supports making community colleges and trade schools tuition-free for all students, including Dreamers. Our state’s network of two-year community colleges provides accessible, high-quality education for students of all ages.
Community colleges are critical to the continued recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. They operate sophisticated distance learning platforms, offer important programs for upskilling and reskilling, and are a student’s most affordable option in Maryland’s system of postsecondary education. However, the cost of attending a community college has risen steadily over the past ten years, as the traditional premise underlying state funding for Maryland’s community college has eroded. The traditional premise was that approximately one third of a student’s community college education would be funded by the state, one third by the local county, and one third by the student him or herself. In recent years, the burden has begun to shift to the student, who now pays closer to 40 percent. This is largely the result of state cuts to funding (under the statutory Cade Formula) during the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Community colleges should be affordable and easy to navigate – and an integral part of Maryland’s skills training and education systems. The state should invest in expanded access, especially for students who face barriers or who need a structured (less risky and more predictable) path to a postsecondary degree or credential. Community Colleges should also be more seamlessly integrated into the state’s training and education systems.
We also must expand access to affordable college by investing in early college high schools where students can get both a high school diploma and an associate's degree and by making it easier for students to get a 4-year degree after starting in a community college. This will help ensure that students leave college with a degree or credential that helps them in the job market by attacking the barriers they face in college - like cost, lack of advising and support, or lack of flexibility in scheduling.
In addition, Career technical education (CTE) can play a key role in preparing students for the jobs of the future and in helping our economy—but far too few schools have modern CTE facilities and programs. That’s why the Blueprint prioritizes expanding CTE programs in high schools across Maryland. This expansion will help our communities recruit businesses and attract entrepreneurs as our economy adapts to technological advancement.
Additionally, we must support and expand pre-apprenticeship opportunities and registered apprenticeships with formal worker representation in program development to provide a clear pathway to high-quality jobs that does not require attending college.
The internet is an extraordinarily powerful tool, but too many of our neighbors do not have reliable access to affordable broadband. This inequality in infrastructure creates economic, educational, and health disparities between Marylanders. During the pandemic, many people have been able to continue working, learning, and connecting safely via the internet. Unfortunately, those who were not able to are falling further behind in large part because they lack basic internet access. Broadband (high-speed internet service) has become an essential service in Maryland’s digital economy, in essence, the electricity or running water of the 21st century.
Digital platforms have transformed most parts of daily life, from how we talk to one another, to how we consume media, to how we travel, to how we conduct business, to how we learn. But those platforms are only meaningful if you can access them. Data shows that 520,000 Maryland households, or about one in four, do not have a home wireline broadband subscription. In addition, 391,000 Maryland homes, or about one in five, do not have either a desktop or laptop computer, and on top of that some 108,000 Maryland households with children under the age of 18 do not have wireline internet service at home. These households suffering from the “homework gap” are disproportionately poor, African American, and Hispanic. This creates a major equity issue as minority communities continue to see disparate effects and do not have the same access to an opportunity for educational success because they do not even have the resources necessary. Access to broadband is not just a rural issue, it is an issue that Marylanders feel all across the state. While rural communities struggle to get connected because of lack of available fiber assets, a 2020 analysis showed us that the majority of digitally disconnected households live in metropolitan areas, and the gaps are especially large when comparing neighborhoods within the same place. Effectively, some residents live in digital poverty even as their neighbors thrive. We must build equitable digital infrastructure to close the digital divide, especially in rural and urban communities.