By Barry Rascovar
Oct. 30, 2017 — A humiliating scene played out recently at the Maryland State Education Association’s fall convention in Ocean City.
Eight candidates for governor, all Democrats, went before the 73,000-member teacher union gathering and tried to out-grovel one another.
By the time they were done, they had promised so much to elevate schooling and improve the lives of teachers you would think Maryland was home to the most magnanimous and well-healed citizens in the world, willing to accept giant tax increases to fund every wish of unionized educators.
- Universal pre-kindergarten in every jurisdictions;
- Fat teacher salary hikes and pensions increases;
- Modern school buildings for everyone;
- Extra learning assistance for kids living in poor school districts;
- Enhanced pre-natal care for pregnant students;
- A plan for recruiting talented teachers;
- More career skills in vocations not requiring a college degree;
- $50,000 more per year for every school in Maryland;
- Another $2 billion a year to bolster existing K-12 public-school education.
It’s as though the Democratic gubernatorial candidates were contemplating a perfect world in which anything and everything is not only possible but mandatory.
Naturally, every Democratic candidate lambasted Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for his failure to champion massive new education aid programs. They called him the “anti-education governor.”
The unionized teacher representatives loved it. And why not? Having a bunch of wannabe governors begging for the union’s endorsement must be an ego-enhancing experience.But the question must be asked at some stage of this campaign: How are they ever going to pay for all this?
Where’s the Cash?
Benjamin Jealous won cheers for saying he would cut Maryland’s budget by five percent and give all that new-found cash — $2 billion — to education.
Since 80 percent of Maryland’s expenditures are mandated by law, Jealous has his work cut out for him.
Wait till he starts itemizing precisely where that $2 billion in coming from. Cutting billions from existing programs just isn’t possible without eliminating or savaging dozens if not hundreds of services used by millions of Maryland citizens.
Krish Vignarajah, another governor wannabe, also endorsed a $2 billion boost to education but without any sign she has a clue of how to realistically make good on her promise.
She also wants to give all 1,424 public schools in Maryland $50,000 in science and technology investments each year. How will she raise that $71.2 million each year?
Nearly all the candidates pledged, if elected, to require universal pre-kindergarten in every Maryland school district.
Funny, so did the Democratic candidates for governor in 2014.
Anthony Brown’s program would have cost $138 million in 2014 dollars. He would have taken that money out of Maryland’s taxes on gambling – most of which already goes toward K-12 education. That internal contradiction never seemed to faze the candidate, who lost big-time to Hogan.
Brown’s primary foes, Doug Gansler and Heather Mizeur, also supposed pre-K education. Gansler wanted an expanded, full-day program for more kids in poverty, at a cost of $20 million. He would have stripped those dollars out of an already-struggling horse-racing industry.
Mizeur’s phased-in full-day pre-K plan would have cost $280 million a year, paid for by legalizing and taxing marijuana. That idea still lacks political support.
At least candidates in 2014 were not only proposing sweeping programs but also putting a dollar figure and funding options out in the open so voters could judge how realistic their plans would be if put into effect.
That’s not so in the early stages of the current gubernatorial maneuvering. That is probably due to the excessively large field in which only a few stand a realistic chance of getting the Democratic nomination.
When a candidate is vying for attention and support from a powerful interest group along with seven others, what happens is an auction — a bidding war. Each tries to out-bid the others for the group’s affections.
The result is unseemly groveling, a pandering win the group’s endorsement – at any cost.
In this case, it means pie-in-the-sky promises that bear little relationship to the real world of Maryland state government, this state’s troubled budget situation and Maryland voters’ strong resistance to higher taxes.