Meaningful Partnership Between Baltimore County, City Is Needed

Published September 26, 2018 in Maryland Matters.

The current president’s term has been marked by a striking disrespect for our country’s allies and a clear disdain for the working class, poor, women and immigrants. Moreover, his shortsighted economic policies show an utter lack of understanding that our economy is linked to that of our neighbors and the rest of the world.

The parallels between what is going on nationally and in the Baltimore region are striking. We have witnessed calls to limit public transportation to and from Baltimore city and to limit housing options for the poor. We have even heard racist anti-immigrant dog whistles from some candidates and elected officials here in Maryland. The regional isolationism promoted by these politicians seems to be driven by either a desire for political gain or by outright cowardice.

We must emphatically reject this appeal to baser instincts in Baltimore County as well as nationally. We need elected officials who are willing to face problems head-on, speak the truth and make bold decisions.

Case in point: The reasons for Baltimore County to partner with Baltimore city — as opposed to run away from it — are quite simple. First and most obvious is geographical proximity. Baltimore County surrounds the city so Baltimore city’s failures and successes affect the county as well as the entire region.

Baltimore also remains a critical source of economic activity for the entire state. The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore is responsible for nearly $3 billion in personal wages and salary and more than $300 million in state and local tax revenues. Almost half of the $1 billion a year that Morgan State University contributes to the Maryland economy goes to residents and jurisdictions outside the city. And don’t forget Johns Hopkins University, whose 2014 economic impact was $9.1 billion in Maryland and 85,678 jobs.

Fewer than half of JHU’s 36,067 employees working in Baltimore in 2014 lived in the city. (The JHU economic impact study is compiled every four years; the 2018 report has not yet been released.)

While a Goucher poll earlier this year showed that two-thirds of Marylanders felt that Baltimore is not Maryland’s economic engine, Baltimore city in fact remains a critical linchpin of Maryland’s economy.

Yes, Baltimore has undeniable difficulties. But prominent among them are years of under-investment in infrastructure and a general apathy among some political leaders. Protestations to the contrary, attitudes from the governor for the past four years have ranged from indifference to hostility. The state budget, authored by the governor and his budget director, have disadvantaged the city accordingly.

The canceled Red Line and State Center projects would have created jobs and benefited the entire region. The roll-back of air quality regulations has blocked needed improvement in the air all Marylanders breathe, but Baltimore city, in particular, has suffered as having among the worst air quality of cities on the East Coast.

The daily reports of violence in the city, the loss of public trust in law enforcement and the justice system, and the real and appalling stories of failing city school facilities are not helping. These problems, however, have been aggravated by Annapolis’s lack of investment in Baltimore.

Small wonder that appreciation of Baltimore’s important role in statewide progress is lacking among Goucher’s survey respondents. Certainly, the words and actions from Annapolis over the last four years have fostered the false impression that somehow Baltimore’s fortunes are divorced from Maryland’s.

Baltimore city does not suffer in a vacuum. The state’s rankings on the economy, job creation and school performance have deteriorated over the past four years, and Baltimore County’s population growth, school performance and job growth lag those of our neighbors, particularly Howard and Montgomery counties.

Studies such as the recent Brookings Institution report, “Renewing America’s Economic Promise Through Older Industrial Cities” (April 2018), do offer hope for Baltimore city and other older industrial cities.

Politicians who pander to fear and anxiety for personal political gain, however, do not offer real solutions to problems. We need new, courageous leadership with the vision to combine our strengths to build a better future for all of Maryland.

Meaningful partnerships among jurisdictions will be required to make that better future a reality. But it can be done.

Voluntary funding efforts are worthwhile, but Baltimore County schools need more support from state

Published August 24, 2018 in The Towson Flyer.

We know that our teachers are stressed financially. The recent poll of Maryland teachers by MGA Strategies for the Maryland State Education Association confirms it. Ninety-one percent of Maryland educators paid for school supplies out of their own pocket. We also know that teachers use GoFundMe and DonorsChoose to raise funds for additional classroom resources. They go to The Book Thing of Baltimore to get free books for their students. And we know they can and do tap into local support efforts like the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap and various donation campaigns created to help fill the void.

One of these worthy campaigns is the Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Foundation’s annual Tools for Schools school supply drive. It provides free school supplies for teachers to pass on to students whose families cannot afford to pay for them. The various “Stuff the Bus” collections around the County are part of this campaign, sponsored by friends and community partners of The Education Foundation of BCPS and residents like us. The “BCPSfest,” their free back-to-school shopping event for Baltimore County Public School teachers, will be held this Saturday, August 25, 2018, at White Marsh Mall from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

All these wonderful programs notwithstanding, Maryland teachers are still using their own money to fill the remaining void for their students and in their classrooms even though 37% of them are paying off student debt and 41% of them get a second job to make ends meet. High out-of-pocket spending is symptomatic of systematic underfunding of school systems. There’s something wrong with this picture!

A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute shows that increasing per-pupil spending by 10% increases high school graduation rates by 7% and about 10% for low-income children. The report, which reviewed research on the role of money in determining school quality, also notes that the key to using money wisely is a strong investment in recruiting, preparing and, supporting teachers. Investing in teachers resulted in better outcomes.

There’s also something wrong with this picture: We know from an independent analysis overseen by the Maryland State Department of Education that Maryland’s public schools are being underfunded by $2.9 billion annually. The Kirwan Commission’s final recommendations to address this gap will be taken up by the 2019 General Assembly with the expectation that the state will revise its school funding formula for the first time in nearly two decades. The voters of Baltimore County need representation in Annapolis that understands how important public education is to the well-being and prosperity of our community as well as our state.

Both of my children are students in Baltimore County public schools and I am PTA Vice President for my younger daughter’s school. My wife and I were blessed with good educations and they have served us well. So I cannot overstate the value I place on education. I strongly believe in public education and making sure it’s adequately funded for all students, for better facilities, and for optimal student-teacher ratios and appropriate pay for teachers and support staffs.

Education and the state of our schools is often the first or second issue I encounter as I knock on doors throughout District 42B where I am a candidate for State Delegate. The comments I receive are not about any lofty policy declarations or grandiose philosophy. That’s because our neighbors — yours and mine — know that a good basic education builds good citizens, a good society, and a good future.

Money does not solve every problem. But adequate funding and prioritizing our future must be asked of all our elected officials.