The work of the Kirwan Commission and the topic of equity dominated a panel discussion that featured local, state and federal representatives speaking on education in Maryland.
The panel was made up of Frederick County Board of Education member Karen Yoho; student board member Malachi Macon; William “Brit” Kirwan, chair of the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education; Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association; and Robert Ruffins, a representative of the Education Trust.
“There is nothing more important than education in America,” Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) said as he introduced the panel at an event Monday night in downtown Frederick.
The panelists focused on the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, which are currently before the Maryland General Assembly under the formal name Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
“There is this myth that [Maryland schools] are in good shape, but what the commission discovered is that we have all sorts of problems,” Kirwan said. “We have high confidence that if we implement these recommendations, we can transform our schools and build a bright future for all of our children.”
Many panelists advocated raising teacher pay.
“Marylanders understand that our teachers aren’t paid enough and so a key component of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is to increase wages ... because we want to attract and retain the best and brightest in the field,” Bost said.
Teacher pay has continued to be a point of discussion locally. At a school board meeting on the proposed budget in early February, FCPS teachers came out in force to ask for higher salaries and reiterated that the county is losing teachers to other areas of the state due to pay.
Macon said teachers are critical to overall student success.
“At the end of the day, a good teacher can make even the most boring class enjoyable,” Macon said. “They are motivators to keep you going and help you succeed.”
One audience member said while supporting teachers is great, he is concerned about the support given to students of color.
Ruffins, who is a senior associate of national and state partnerships with the Education Trust, said there is a unique opportunity to addressing equity through the Kirwan recommendations.
“Too often, we talk about a thing called the achievement gap when actually it’s an opportunity gap. ... This bill is going to provide a model for how we can allocate the additional resources we have, more intelligently,” Ruffins said, adding that accountability will be a key piece.
“Making sure the resources are getting to the students, we have to seize this moment and we have to make sure that there is accountability from the top and grassroots level,” he said.
Frederick County Teachers Association President Melissa Dirks, who attended the event, said equity is important but that a big piece of that, again, is teachers and recruiting a diverse workforce.
“There are fewer teachers of color ... and those candidates are highly sought after,” Dirks said. “And when they can live in Frederick but make $20,000 more starting out in Montgomery or Howard, they’re going there and all our kids are suffering because of it.”
Trone said he hoped attendees understood that both education in general and the Kirwan bill should be a top priority.
“This is all about our children, and if we don’t get that right, then we have failed as adults,” Trone said. “We’re all in this together and it has to happen and move forward and move forward now.”