Never say what you mean
Over the years, I have learned that politics is the art of reframing something so what you are doing to looks like just the opposite of what you are doing.
That is what is happening now in the Maryland State Legislature. The piece of legislation called, “Protect Our Schools” should, if candor were a priority, be called “Feds, keep your hands off Maryland.”
Here is the background. Trump and his newly minted Ed Secretary, DeVos, are clearly on the record in favor of charter schools and vouchers. Maryland’s Governor is also a Republican and has made no secret of his favor for both of these ways to change public schools. With a Republican in the White House and with DeVos as Secretary, there is a real chance these changes could come to Maryland.
The members of the Maryland Legislature are overwhelmingly Democrats. They are also very much aligned with the Maryland State Teachers’ Union. The teachers’ union sees charter schools and vouchers as taking money away from public schools where they do their work. Protect our Schools is a bill that will not allow the State Board of Education to use either vouchers or the creation of charter schools as a solution for a failing school. The legislation also makes it a bit more difficult for a school to be defined as failing by requiring that test scores only count as 65% of the metric rather than 75%.
The teams on either side of the issue are lining up. The president of the State Board is opposed to the legislation because he says that education policy decisions should be independent and politics kept out. But then he was recently appointed by Hogan so it is no surprise that he agrees with the Governor. No politics there.
Trump and DeVos advocate vouchers as a way to allow more low-income students to attend private schools. Great idea! Let’s give low-income folks $4,000 vouchers to attend $25,000 schools. What vouchers wind up being is a discount coupon for the people who could already afford 20K for their kids to go to a private school. If you can’t afford the purchase price, a roughly 5% off voucher is not going to open the door to the other 95% of the cost.
The center of the debate does not have all that much to do with who has the educational power to control public schools. It is all about how well a Democratically controlled legislature can play defense against a Republican Governor supported by a Republican federal administration.
When looking at the sides in this fight, it is best to see who has which dogs in the hunt. The legislature, the teachers’ union and to some extent the Superintendent’s organization all back the bill. Governor Hogan and his Republican appointees are happy to find something they can agree with the federal administration on since if they go too far down that conservative road, they are not likely to be reelected in overwhelming blue Maryland.
Republicans are telling us that families want to hold their children to high academic standards to carry out DeVos’ vision for education in our country. They also talk about jeopardizing federal funding. Democrats tell us the legislature has the responsibility to step in on behalf of those same constituents who want to protect our public schools.
The language is very high and mighty but the fighting is down and dirty. Hogan will veto and the legislature will probably override and no one will say what they really mean.