Education

_AshwaniJain
11 min readJan 27, 2021

Introduction:

As a product of Maryland Public Schools — including a Title 1 Elementary School — I understand the importance of providing quality and accessible education for every student across this state. Even when I was battling cancer at the age of 13, I remember how the entire network of staff at my middle school — everyone from the bus driver, the food service staff, the custodians, my guidance counselor, my teachers, and even the building itself — became my safe place where I was able to find emotional support, push my worries from the hospital aside, and feel like I wasn’t alone.

I see the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future as a crucial step in addressing inequities in the state’s education system. I believe it is important to help both educators, who are building our state’s future, and students, who should be on a level playing field with their peers from the beginning of their academic journey.

But we must do more — and ensure our budget reflects these values and priorities. Here is what my Relief, Recovery, and Reform platform will accomplish:

RELIEF

We need to reduce the educator shortage, increase the pipeline of diverse educators, and decrease the student-educator ratio. Each of these will not only result in better care for students, but also help ease the workload of our educators. There are several ways we can accomplish this:

Fund the Blueprint

We already have the funds, but must do more to increase sustainability of resources. Part of this means to be held accountable for promised revenue streams (ex. if we promise that funds from slots will be used for our education systems, we must ensure that money actually gets allocated appropriately). Part of this means we include the voices of educators in the budget process (before, during AND after). And part of this means increasing revenue streams for our state by keeping people in our state and encouraging more to move into our state. My “Maryland Now Plan” can significantly help us accomplish this.

Expand Broadband

We should provide support for the Office of Rural Broadband within the Department of Housing and Community Development — and create an Office of Statewide Broadband to ensure all residents have access to broadband

Ease Student Debt of Educators

I believe that if you pursue a career in teaching, your student loan debt should be forgiven. Your sacrifice to literally build our state’s future should be acknowledged and appreciated.

Maryland already has a “Student Debt Relief Tax Credit” which applies once to those with $20K in student loan debt. But the fact that our educators face an average of $40K in student loan debt — which is about $10K more than the average student loan debt of non-educators in the state — highlights the need to do better.

As such, I support student loan debt forgiveness — of between $5K-$10K — for those who teach in MD public school systems for 6 years, and which is not conditioned on full or on-time payments.

This would not only bring educator student debt more in line with the state average for post-secondary degrees, but will also encourage educators to stay in the profession past the attrition peak and become the high-quality, experienced educators we need.

Reduce Barriers to an Education Career

Teaching is a highly specialized career, requiring extensive building and maintenance of our teachers’ skills across the state. This complexity is on top of myriad difficulties in the field: inadequate preparation; dissatisfaction with compensation; challenging working conditions; and increased barriers to entry.

In fact, according to The Learning Policy Institute, there was a 25% decrease in students who pursued education degrees in 2020.

To ease some of the barriers to entry, recruit more teachers from more backgrounds — especially as the number of students enrolling has steadily increased — one part of the solution can be to ease educational requirements.

Bachelor’s degrees are costly in both time and money, and student debt is the second largest source of installment debt in the US. Further, current teacher attrition and shortage rates indicate that the certification requirements and compensation are currently suboptimal.

As such, I believe we should allow holders of A.A.T. (Associates in the Art of Teaching) from accredited 2-year institutions (like Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and other county Community Colleges already provide) — or the equivalent credits and Education coursework — to take the Praxis I and II exams to achieve certification.

These programs have as much or more field-specific preparation as other MD-approved Alternative Teacher Preparation programs, which may have as little as a five week training program.

The AAT’s real support of pedagogy, curriculum, and instructional design will go a long way towards widening the pool of potential applicants, while still making sure our teachers are trained, qualified, and prepared for the specific challenges of teaching.

Maryland already allows standardized test scores to substitute for certain coursework requirements, and this policy would be no different. This policy also dovetails with the position on fully funding community colleges in the state, and lowering the student debt burden on our educators.

Affordable Housing

Many teachers and paraeducators can’t afford to live in the same city or county they teach, or even send their own kids to their classroom. This should not be the case, and I’ve outlined details on my plan in the Housing section.

Collective Bargaining Rights

Many adjuncts and full-time faculty in our universities and community colleges do not currently have this right to bargain collectively. These are employees who help advance our society and educate our residents, and we need to ensure they have the full spectrum of labor rights needed to do their jobs and live successful lives.

And if/when negotiations between management and employees fail to reach an agreement, it makes sense to bring in an objective, third party arbitrator to resolve the issue. And as Governor, I will ensure these contract negotiations are binding — so both parties can be held accountable.

Assist children of military families

Maryland has some of the highest population of military affiliated children in the country. And these children move, on average, every 2 years. Most will attend 8 different public schools in their lives.

To provide greater continuity in their education during what is already a stressful life and way to learn, I pledge to work with the state superintendent to issue guidance for school systems with military housing to avoid redistricting these military housing communities.

RECOVERY

The History of Racism (Critical Race Theory)

In the same way students need to learn about the Holocaust (to promote social justice and understand how to move past systemic hate), students must also learn about the history and prevalence of racism that still impacts our society today. Hiding the truth does nothing to protect our freedom and liberty.

Make Community College More Affordable and Accessible

The median cost of Community College tuition in MD for 2021 is $6,700/year ($558 dollars/ month). This doesn’t include the cost of transportation, books & supplies, or potential class or material fees.

This is a huge extra bill for any working family to be able to pay to get ahead. However, the routes for making Community College more affordable to more people aren’t easy to find.

While many helpful programs exist to support student enrollment in Community Colleges — from both the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Maryland Association of Community Colleges — we must do more.

  • Currently, our state budgets $15 million for the Promise Program (offers up to $5,000 in scholarships if you meet certain requirements). I believe we should look into lowering and easing these requirements, as well as do a better job of increasing awareness of such programs.
  • Given that our 16 community colleges serve more students than our 33 four-year institutions (around 500K students vs. around 300K students) yet only receive two-fifths of their revenue; and given that our four year institutions are able to better utilize revenue streams like grants and room and board — I believe we must provide greater budget appropriations for community colleges in our state.
  • We should also expand work-study programs (which have proven successful at schools like Montgomery College) to help reduce tuition for students who do part-time work in academic departments.

Reduce Student Debt for all students

We must expand the eligibility and availability of our State’s Student Loan Debt Relief Tax Credit Program. One practical way to accomplish this is by expanding the program to those who have incurred at least $10,000 in student loan debt (not just $20,000).

We should also expand work-study programs (which have proven successful at schools like Montgomery College) to help reduce tuition for students who do part-time work in academic departments.

Finally, as part of my “Maryland Now Plan” ,we need to eliminate the state income tax for all Marylanders who make less than $400,000, create a Guaranteed Jobs Program (for students who enter the workforce and cannot find work) and make public transit free (to ensure students are not facing financial burdens to get to class).

Invest in Trade Schools

A trade school (also known as a technical school) is a post-secondary educational institution designed to train students for a specific job in a skilled trade career.

While we currently have close to 50 trade schools in our state, most are housed in our great community colleges (i.e. Montgomery College, Community College of Baltimore County, Prince George’s Community College, Howard Community College, Hagerstown Community College, and Frederick Community College).

In these programs, students can learn Tech, Coding, Agriculture and Green job skills to prepare them for the future. This will also help offset any short-term job loss that could occur during my pledge to deactivate all coal power plants in our state (see “Climate Change” section).

School Construction

Whether in a rural county, an urban county, or a suburban county that’s growing, children deserve a promising room ― warm, modern ― to go to school. Schools in every county in Maryland are in desperate need of renovations.Districts with the largest populations of black and brown students, like Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, have the oldest facilities in the state.

As such, I believe we need to work to prioritize funding for low-income neighborhoods, and I believe our budget should focus on maximizing the state’s use of land to build new or restore existing school buildings in overcrowded areas.

I also believe we need to extend Prevailing Wage Laws to include school construction projects. Prevailing wage laws assure that workers on public works projects are paid a wage that is most common or “prevailing” for a specific job in a specific geographic location. These laws also prevent contractors from undermining local employment by low bidding or bringing in workers at lower wages. Unfortunately, while the state of Maryland has prevailing wage laws, some counties currently exclude school construction projects. As such, we must close this loophole.

Increase access to STEM programs

Women and minority students are historically underrepresented in STEM educational programs and the workforce.

The gender gap in STEM is rooted in the educational system, where there are factors that perpetuate this.

  • Gender Stereotypes: STEM fields are often viewed as masculine, and teachers and parents often underestimate girls’ math abilities starting as early as preschool.
  • Male-Dominated Cultures: Because fewer women study and work in STEM, these fields tend to perpetuate inflexible, exclusionary, male-dominated cultures that are not supportive of or attractive to women and minorities.
  • Fewer Role Models: girls have fewer role models to inspire their interest in these fields, seeing limited examples of female scientists and engineers in books, media and popular culture. There are even fewer role models of Black women in math and science.

As such, I believe we must diversify the school curriculum to include STEM classes in all middle and high schools to achieve equitable opportunities.

We must also promote and expand mentoring programs and after-school STEM programs (such as coding camps and science fairs like “Girls Who Code”, “Girl Scouts of Maryland”, and “Exploring Engineering at the University of Maryland”)

REFORM

Kirwan Commission and the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future

Disappointingly, Governor Hogan vetoed the bipartisan bill in 2020 to adopt the sensible recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, which would have increased funding and support to our public education system. If elected Governor, I will fight to ensure these recommendations are passed and enforced.

Universal Pre-K

Maryland needs Universal Pre-K across the state. Most children grow up in households where both parents work outside of the home, making outside care a necessity. Unfortunately, the cost of pre-k and childcare are too expensive. Furthermore, children with parents who speak another language have been less likely to enroll, thus creating a lag in kindergarten readiness and an increase in the opportunity gap.

By providing universal pre-k, we can reduce the financial burdens faced by our residents and ensure our children are prepared for their future (studies have shown that they will be better prepared for kindergarten, less likely to be placed in special education, less likely to repeat a grade, more likely to graduate from high school and even less likely to commit crimes) — thus reducing the opportunity gap by some of our low-income and minority families.

The Kirwan Commission estimated the cost of implementing Universal Pre-K would be $3.8 billion.

  • Some of this funding will come from the casino revenues (as was the original intent, and which generated over $540 million in 2019).
  • Some will come from lottery revenues (which generated over $1.1 billion in 2020, and aligns with how states like Virginia, Georgia and Nebraska fund their pre-k).
  • And some will come from the other funding sources I outlined in the “How to Fund” post.

Ensure employees of state public colleges and universities have a bigger seat at the table

We must ensure part-time faculty at colleges and universities are given a bigger seat at the table and provided equal benefits. If these part-time faculty members are expected to educate our students — and if our goal is to provide students academic progress and college completion — then they must also be given the respect that educators deserve.

This includes ensuring they have more advanced knowledge of what classes they are teaching, and access to orientation, professional development and administrative support. Not only will these changes to our systems respect all our faculty members, but they will benefit our students with more fulfilling, engaging and effective learning.

Eliminate School Resource Officers

SROs are on-duty local police officers, staffed to school buildings through agreements between police departments and county schools.

While law enforcement officers are important in keeping our cities safe — with increased accountability and transparency in their actions — I do not believe they should have a presence within our schools.

Our schools should not feel like a prison, and our students should not be policed. In fact, given the right resources — and the proper approach — our schools can become an ideal place of intervention.

Policing in schools has proven to disproportionately target students of color and students with disabilities. Statistically, they have also proven to not decrease crime or make schools safer.

As such, by removing SROs and having more school psychologists/counselors (who are better able to identify and address problems before they become issues), we can ensure our schools remain safe and positive environments, as well as help those who need it most.

And if individual schools believe they still need a public safety officer, we can look into training school security personnel — who are direct employees of the school district, now official law enforcement officers, and are unarmed.

Encourage Student Activism

I believe students should be able to take up to 3 excused absences per year to participate in political protest or another form of civic engagement.

I also believe we need to give each of our SMOBs full and equal voting rights in the Boards of Education. If they are elected to represent the student voice, they need to be given the power and authority to vote on issues that will impact those students.

Performance-Based Assessments rather than Standardized Testing

I support the implementation of innovative performance-based assessments that test students’ ability to apply skills rather than simply memorizing concepts for traditional standardized assessments. The traditional style of standardized assessments frequently yields results that underestimate a student’s ability to succeed. Moving towards performance-based assessments could be a far more accurate representation of a student’s abilities.

Oppose School Privatization

I am opposed to private school choice/vouchers because I believe public dollars should be used to improve public schools (especially in low-income and minority neighborhoods which are traditionally underfunded).

By dedicating taxpayer dollars to public schools — and ensuring they are under the control of local school boards — I also believe there will be greater accountability and transparency when it comes to how the funds are used and the quality of education provided.

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_AshwaniJain

He/Him — Youngest person to run for MD Governor — Cancer Survivor — NKF — Obama White House/HUD/HHS