Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Destroys Local Budgets and Squeezes Out Local Programs Best for Students
by Jan Greenhawk, Writer/Editor for Radio Free Oxford
It’s been on the horizon for quite a while. Like a nuclear bomb set to destroy local budgets and local control of education, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future will explode this year and negate local governance by counties and local school boards.
The Blueprint isn’t anything new. It was created in 2016 under the name “Kirwan Legislation.” A group of appointed education “gurus” and bureaucratic “experts” got together to create a top-down program that they insisted would make our schools better. They studied educated systems in Finland, Shanghai, Singapore and Ontario, Canada. They also studied schools in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. Is there anything that strikes you as unique about those systems?
None of those systems are at all like any school system in Maryland. Three of the systems come from countries where both population, values, and structure of schools and government are completely different from Maryland’s.
Here’s an article on Chinese schools: 6 Details You Need to Know About Schools in China (yoyochinese.com) As you read the article, you will conclude like I did that NO American parent or child would tolerate the way Chinese schools teach. Their schools are about as different from U.S. schools as their Communist Government is different from ours. This article from 2014 explores the differences more specifically: Here’s the truth about Shanghai schools: they’re terrible | Saga Ringmar | The Guardian
And then Singapore: 8 Facts about Education in Singapore – The Borgen Project The thing that struck me about their schools is that parents must pay for schooling, if even a small fee. Their school days are longer and teachers are expected to work much longer for much less pay. Again, can’t imagine much of that working here in the United States. The Unions don’t like the current workload of teachers as it is.
As for those other states/countries, the demographics and philosophies are so different from Maryland it’s almost laughable. In Finland, they don’t even allow children to go to school until they’re seven.
But, that doesn’t matter to the “experts” who created this boondoggle. They wanted something to make a big splash on the education scene, something that would show everyone how much they cared about student achievement. And, of course, something that will cost a fortune. From my time in education, I learned that when you can’t find a real solution to a problem, throw more money at it.
If it was just the money we were talking about with the Blueprint, that would be one thing. The problem is that this initiative creates a Soviet style administrative structure that rivals anything the USSR ever knew. I wrote about this in February of 2022: (portions in italics are from the February blog. The link is at the end of this blog post.)
Yesterday, I discovered there is now something in Maryland called” The Blueprint.” For those of you who were busy trying not to go broke or crazy in the past two years, the “Blueprint” is actually “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” a sweeping education reform bill that will spend BILLIONS, add all kinds of programs to local school districts, make the Unions richer than ever, and cause the hearts of every Superintendent to beat with happy anticipation. It is the cash cow of cash cows. Imagine that every child in the system is now a great big old ATM. Each one of them will be worth so much money! Government got a taste of it with the Covid relief money, but this is something WAY better!
This Blueprint is a direct descendent of something we have had in Maryland since in the 90’s. In 2002 it was called the “Bridge to Excellence Act” and its goal was to “update” the school funding formula in Maryland using the “expertise” of state commissions. It had the word “excellence” in it and the state was going to throw tons of money at the schools, especially those in the politically powerful Montgomery, Howard, and Baltimore counties as well as those districts that could gain the state street cred, namely Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. And it worked so well. Not really. In fact, despite all the funding formulas, special commissions, etc. the schools didn’t inch one tiny bit upward toward mediocrity much less excellence. In fact, test scores, teacher competence, and school climate declined.
Surprising because there were SO many experts on what was eventually called the “Kirwan Commission” who guided this mess. Apparently, being an expert doesn’t make you effective at positive change.
However, in 2017, resuscitation was attempted and this commission did studies of “top performing” educational systems across the world in order to find what works. Guess what they figured out? We needed to adopt reforms that are comparable to the ones done in Finland, Singapore, Canada and, wait for it, China.
One important reform suggested was “institute a governance system that has the authority and legitimacy to develop coherent, powerful policies and is capable of implementing them at scale.” ( my bold for emphasis)
Let me translate that into real English: “Create a bunch of bureaucrats who will be able to coerce and force local elected Boards to do exactly what we say without question and make sure they all do what we want in lock step or suffer the economic consequences.”
Hence The Blueprint” and its wonderful new Cosa Nostra, the all-knowing, the all-powerful “Accountability and Implementation Board” will make sure all the local yahoos do what the state, not the people, want.
Here’s a description, taken from a local county’s website:
Notice some things? The board is in place from 7/1/2020 to June 30, 2032. Wow. Twelve years that this board will be “in place.” That’s a lot of strong arming.
See their job? Hold State and local governments, including local and state school boards, accountable for implementing THE Blueprint. Not for doing what is best for their communities, not for being good custodians of the people’s taxes, but just implementing The Blueprint. That’s it. And guess what? If the local, elected school board (or other elected board) goes against the progrom of The Blueprint, the AIB will have jurisdiction. That’s right. They will OVERRULE your local, elected board. Basically, you. Your votes for those positions will be meaningless.
And just in case you think you can “trust” the people who have been currently appointed (not elected) to this board, none of them are from the Eastern Shore or Western Maryland. None of them represent parents or teachers.
Ultimately, why are they necessary? What is in The Blueprint that is so obnoxious that it has to be protected for 12 years by an oversight committee?
I do know one thing. The Board is appointed by the Governor and the Board has power over EVERYTHING, school boards, county councils, even the State Board of Education.
What is THE Blueprint?
Funny thing about Progressives, whenever they name a program, they do a great job of making it sound so positive while it is going to do things that are so negative. “The Blueprint,” which is supposed to rebuild Maryland’s education system, is going to do exactly the opposite. And it’s going to cost BILLIONS over the next twelve years.
But, let’s be fair and take a good look at this program that is so wonderful local agencies have to be threatened into compliance. There are five focus areas:
Early Childhood Education: Just so you know, these bureaucrats want your children as soon as they can get them. If they could stand in the delivery room and catch the babies as they spurted out of their mothers, they would. But they have to start one step at a time.
This headlong sprint to “full day, free to all low income 3–4-year-olds pre-k” is described as a way to get all children “ready to learn” for kindergarten. It will be the government delivered “Head Start” program which was an utter failure. It will start out as “recommended.” It will end up as mandatory. Because they can’t get all that educational mediocrity done in just twelve short years with your child. They need more time.
Recent points: Not only is this a rush to do what the new Governor, Wes Moore, stated he wanted to do which is have our children from birth to workforce, it is also an incorrect assumption that counties have the capacity to implement the requirements of this pillar. First, there must be compliant building capacity for all of these children and there isn’t in many areas. Second, there must be trained teachers and staff at an acceptable teacher student to pupil ratio. As Delegate Jeff Ghrist puts it, “what are we going to do when all 24 jurisdictions want to hire people from a barely existent pool of candidates? (paraphrase). Finally, how will the systems be able to pay these people the wage they will want for this job?
Elevating Teachers and School Leaders: As we are in the middle of a teacher shortage, this initiative is going to make teachers, potential teachers and school leaders “meet much more rigorous standards.” As stated in the Blueprint, Teacher evaluation and promotion will be in the form of teaching portfolios which will be presented to third party regulatory bodies. These portfolios will be judged arbitrarily by standards created by boards, boards who have their own ideologies and will never have met or seen the teacher teach.
This means higher pay for teachers (the unions LOVE that; more money means higher dues) and mandates that local counties have “local career ladders.” In other words, the state will determine how teacher pay raises will be given and how teachers will achieve higher level jobs. All this while working toward a cap on teacher classroom time to 60%. This means only 60% of a teacher’s workday will be actually doing their job, teaching in a classroom. Supposedly, this extra time out of the classroom will be spent learning new and better ways to teach. Sure. If you say so. From experience I know that there will be so much paperwork associated with their jobs that teachers will spend this time doing record keeping.
And, if you are fearful that the rigorous standards for training teachers will be too hard to reach, don’t worry, they will focus on “specified components of instruction, including basic research skills, differentiation of instruction, cultural competency, restorative practices and effective classroom management.” How about actual content knowledge? I guess it’s no longer important that teachers actually can read, write, know science and history and do math. Anyway, the big dogs in this pile are cultural competency and restorative practices. Look them up to find out what they mean.
Update: The Blueprint will demand that ALL first-year teachers will make $60000 a year by the 2027. That’s four years from now. Sounds okay until you realize that when salaries at the bottom of the pay scale go up, they have to go up by the same amount all the way up the ladder. And all ancillary pay such as extra duty, workshop pay, etc. will have to go up as well. Of course, retirement will go up, promising a great big surprise to the counties when all these teachers leave the profession. Not only that, but when one profession gets a pay raise well above the inflation rate, a pay raise other workers are not getting, there will be animosity towards teachers.
CREATING A WORLD CLASS INSTRUCTIONAL SYSTEM: It’s not February 2nd so I know it’s not Groundhog Day but, like the movie of the same name, this objective makes me think we are reliving the same decades over and over. I believe I first heard this phrase around 1980. Still hasn’t happened. In fact, much of what is in this Blueprint is just repeats of old plans resurrected.
There is so much built into this one that it would be hard to summarize but I’ll give it a go. They want to create a curriculum that is INTERNATIONALLY benchmarked so ALL students will achieve “college and career readiness” by the end of 10th grade. So, when a child is 16, he/she/they/them/those/ will be ready to go to college or to take up a career. And who will determine the courses they will take for this? You guessed it, the AIB.
Update: Never fear, the community colleges are there to save the day. While dual enrollment in local community colleges has been an option for Junior and Seniors for a while, it will now be offered to any high school student. And best part of all, it will be FREE to the student. Tuition, books, transportation, fees, etc. will be paid by the school district and local taxpayers.
As for career counseling, this will have to be done by an entity called the local workforce development board. Large counties have boards with many staff members. In a small county like ours, there are four on the board. Four to service all 4,000 plus children in the county to the tune of approximately $250,000 in the budget (that’s approximately $62.00 per student). If you think these four have the training, time and capacity to handle this with all of our students, I have a bridge in New York City to sell you.
Standards and Equity (This name has since been changed to “More Resources to ensure that all students are successful): Here’s where the rubber, and the money, hits the road. In this part of the plan, more money is given to poorer schools. Those schools are determined by the percentage of students whose families are at the poverty level. This designation is always changing. And, while this has always been the case that schools with more “free lunch” or Title 1 students have always gotten more money, this time the more is way more. In other words, some kids are worth more in funding than others.
In this model, services are designated for all members of a child’s “family” in certain schools. Health, dental, mental health, adult classes in academics, work force skills, etc. Kids will get extended school year, weekend school, vision services, and the very popular “social, emotional, psychological and behavioral services,”
Update: This is the “Community School” concept. Again, staffing and facility space becomes an issue. Where will all these extra employees come from since most employers, especially school systems, are struggling to find people who want to work? Also, is this what schools are for? Where does academics fit? In a small, rural county, how does the system provide these services.
The cost for all of this will be an amount we have never seen before. And if a county can’t afford all this? Well, they had better raise their taxes or bear the wrath of the Accountability and Implementation Board.
Governance and Administration: So, we come full circle to that Accountability and Implementation Board. Every school system will be REQUIRED by the “Super Board” to do the following to implement this plan:
- Adapt all the required curriculum, instruction and organization of the school day for this plan.
- Close all achievement gaps regardless of race, gender, disability, household income, etc. Basically, every child MUST achieve at the exact same level. No highs, no lows, etc. With highs and lows, you have gaps. They are making progress with this since ALL of our children are doing much worse academically, with only 30% achieving proficient in math, reading and science according to recent test scores, a huge drop. No gaps, just low achievement for everyone! See the attached PDF of the most recent Maryland test scores.
- Present an approved plan to the AIB or have 25% of your system’s state funding withheld. In 2 years, there can be more of a percentage withheld. Where will that 25% go? In a savings account? To the Unions? If the AIB decides, arbitrarily, that a certain district doesn’t meet the requirements and deadline for planning the AIB can take away all their money. No problem with bribes there. By the way, the prediction is that this plan will increase local funding for schools 24% by 2030. That’s 6% a year, without factoring in inflation. It will amount to millions. State funding will increase to $3.1 BILLION by FY2030 an increase of over $400 million. Hold on to your inflation depleted pocketbooks folks! Higher taxes for property owners and income earners are coming! Update: This year, our county will face an 8 million dollar increase to the education budget. Since we are considered a “wealthy” county, seventy-two percent of this increase will be paid by the locals. And that is JUST to fund the mandates of the Blueprint. People ask me why the county doesn’t just refuse this. They can’t. If they do, the state will hold all county revenues from taxes hostage.
- Provide all the personnel to do all the extra things required in the plan as well as to become “review teams” in the county to do interviews, surveys, etc. to decide why students aren’t achieving. More positions, more people, more money. Government grows again!
Update: Many local Superintendents, county councils/commissioners, School Boards and state politicians are very concerned about this legislation.
One of the biggest concerns is that the Blueprint will force a “one size fits all” mandated program on every county. One local school board member commented that with this budget, our county will have nothing left to fund the local initiatives that are unique to our area and successful with our children. What may work in Baltimore City, Montgomery County or Prince Georges County will not work in the rural counties of the Eastern Shore. And, remember, the Eastern Shore has NO representation of the AIB board, even after it was expanded. The Blueprint is a huge middle finger to the students here; a very expensive, budget busting finger.
While some local programs are supported by grants and donations, philanthropic groups will not have the capacity to cover everything that the schools formerly had in their budgets. And, even if they did, will there be time in the school day to conduct these initiatives AND teach academics.
Not only will unique school initiatives be eliminated, but programs in the Blueprint that may be geared toward special populations in Central Maryland will be added at great expense and no positive impact on Eastern Shore students. It’s something public education is very good at, creating and mandating a program for a problem that doesn’t exist. Then, when the solution doesn’t work, they will ask for more money for it so they can beef up the unsuccessful practices more.
The money spent on those programs will also force county leaders to eliminate or shortchange programs outside of education. Law enforcement, county maintenance, economic development, etc. will have their budgets slashed to make room for Blueprint money. When a county has to decide between basic services or education mandates knowing that the mandates MUST be implemented or they lose their funds, basic services will go by the wayside.
Let’s not forget the local taxpayer. In our county, voters elected to maintain a specific property tax rate. This was to keep people here in their homes instead of moving out, particularly young families. Estimates done on the Blueprint BEFORE inflation show property taxes increasing even after the county put in an amount directed towards education.
It is important to note that these figures are PRE inflation. Inflation was at around 2.5% when they were determined. Now it’s over 8%.
The state will argue that our county is a “wealthy” county. What they don’t understand is that although our collective wealth is high, it is concentrated within a very small, elderly population who often live here part time, don’t pay income taxes, and have accountants who help them avoid property taxes.
The rest of us are middle class and lower; people who will not be able to afford the increased taxes and property assessments the state and county will force on us to pay this bill. And that is an assumption that top-down governments often make about the populations they don’t cater to or understand. Our population won’t win them elections.
Our new Governor, Wes Moore obviously understands that fact since he did not carry the Eastern Shore in the 2022 election. In his haste to provide many new initiatives in Maryland, none of them benefit our part of the state.
I said at the beginning that the Blueprint was incorrectly modeled after education programs in Communist China. On second thought, I might be wrong. I think the top down, one party control of the Chinese system is exactly what the Blueprint is about.
And our kids will suffer because one size fits all top-down mandates don’t work. They never have.
Local Fiscal Impact of Implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (granicus.com)
Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan is a retired teacher and a current Chapter Chair for Moms for Liberty, Talbot
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