The first piece of advice

July 3, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2018, Culture and Politics, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on The first piece of advice 

If you haven’t figured this out in the 12 years, 7 months, and a bit of change since I began this here website, I have an agenda I want to share with you, and sometimes that intrudes onto other parts of my life. I also have gained in my 53-plus years on this planet a little bit of institutional memory and sometimes that dictates my actions.

One case in point occurred a few weeks back and it was because I knew several things would be true and coincide with things I was already planning to do anyway.

  • First of all (and again, in case you didn’t notice over the last 13 seasons) I am a regular devotee of Delmarva Shorebirds games. One season (before I met my wife) I think I made it to about 60 home games out of 70 scheduled. Since I’ve been married I’ve toned it down somewhat, but I will be somewhere in the high 20s this year I believe. Anyway, my favorite days to attend are Sundays and Thursdays, so I got my half-season package in order for me to attend most of those games. Thus, I knew I would be there for the game on Sunday, June 10.
  • Secondly, I had found out a few weeks earlier that Larry Hogan would be in attendance for a game against the Hagerstown Suns, with the reason being that of inaugurating an annual competition between the two called the Governor’s Cup. It turns out we are the only two pro teams in a major sport that are Maryland-based and play each other annually in the regular season in the same league. The date: June 10.
  • Now this is something I didn’t plan for many years ago when I secured the seat, but it so happens that most of those who participate in on-field ceremonies walk up the aisle right by me. So I have had the pleasure of meeting many of those who sing the National Anthem, throw out the first pitch, and so on.
  • Knowing all that, I decided it was time to do a little promotion for a cause I held dear, and create a message at the same time. And thank goodness I lent my cell phone out because the “official” photo from the staff photographer was nowhere near this good.

The big guy on the left is big because he runs a state. The big guy on the right is at least losing a few pounds.

So what message do I want to impart to the reader? First of all, if you’re looking for a good Christian school in the Salisbury area you should consider Faith Baptist School, which is the educational ministry of my church.

But it also gives me an “in” to talk about an issue that I think needs to be brought into the gubernatorial race. Why do you think I picked that shirt?

Back in April, the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) endorsed the primary campaign of eventual Democrat nominee Ben Jealous. Echoing the teacher’s union, Jealous has this as a priority for his campaign:

Before Governor Hogan took office, Maryland’s public schools were ranked first in the country for five years running. Now, under his leadership, we’ve slipped to sixth. As governor, I will reverse this trend by making sure we raise teacher pay by 29%, fund full-day universal Pre-K by legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use, and force Annapolis to finally keep its promise to use all of the casino and lottery revenue to increase education spending, not replace money they’ve shifted to other priorities.

In addition, Ben has this plan in mind: “Jealous proposes implementing recommendations from the Kirwan Commission and expanding vocational training in Maryland’s high schools so that every child graduates career and college ready.”

While I don’t mind some additional love to vocational education, here’s the rub: his agenda won’t significantly increase our ranking, which is based on a number of factors as defined by Education Week. That publication, in turn, has its own sponsors and trustees who cheerlead for public education. But Maryland being in sixth place is really as meaningless as Maryland in first place if Johnny can’t read and Suzie can’t do simple math or point out Maryland on a map.

So let’s first talk about the Kirwan Commission: if there ever was a group who was ready and willing to raid the pockets of taxpayers, this would be it. This one was doomed from the word go just based on who appointed people to it. (The sad thing was that not one Delegate or Senator objected to its creation.)

And it’s interesting to me that, when you look at the numbers, the Jealous plan can’t even support the teacher raises, let alone the rest of the wish list:

The first four years can be paid for with the phase-in of the Fix the Fund Act that ensures $125 million in FY2020, $250 million in FY2021, $375 million in FY2022, and $500 million in FY2023 will be added to school funding through casino gaming revenues. The fifth year can be covered by $500 million from the Fix the Fund Act and revenue generated by requiring combined reporting for Maryland taxable income. (Emphasis mine.)

Welcome to tax increase number 1, slamming multistate employers who do business in Maryland. (I’m not even counting the pot tax because that’s simply a new tax that’s going to hit the poor hardest – just like the casino tax will, come to think of it. How many rich people go to casinos?)

And the funny thing is: we spend more on education than ever before – just not as much as the teacher’s union wants. (Aside to teachers out there: do you really want sin taxes to fund your schools – more importantly, do you really want your dues supporting this agenda? Now you can take advantage of Janus rights and I encourage it.)

But I don’t want to get into the weeds of taxes because it goes without saying a Democrat will raise them: it’s what they do.

I believe there is a solution that obviates the need for tax increases and produces better results for all Maryland children and parents: school choice. (Or as I like to call it, money follows the child.) Democrats HATE this issue because it’s broadly supported by one of their key constituency groups (inner-city minority voters) yet feared and despised by one of their main financial contributors (unions in general, teachers’ unions in particular.) And who’s winning? Follow the money.

If Larry Hogan wants to drive a wedge into a core constituency of his opponent and peel off a few voters in Baltimore City, he could travel into some downtrodden neighborhood to find a rare success of a school, then make the following statement:

My opponent wants you to gamble more and smoke marijuana just to raise the money to plug into the schools you know aren’t doing the job. I believe we can do better by giving you the power to send your children to whichever school will take them – public, charter, private, it does not matter. If you wanted to send your child to this school (points back at said successful school) we could give you the opportunity. You can decide which option is best for your child.

So let’s talk about private school – in my case, Faith Baptist School.

Right off the top of my head I don’t have the number for tuition for next year but it’s certainly nowhere near the $12,249 a year the local, state, and federal government spends per pupil for our public schools. I’ll bet it’s not more than half of that, but let’s say the state adopts such a program.

First of all, this could allow FBS to increase tuition and better compensate their teachers and staff. Just picking a number, we’ll say tuition and fees come in at $8,000 a year, which would certainly be enough to provide raises and hire more teachers for the need – perhaps from the ranks of former public school teachers fed up with the eradication of God from the public school classroom. (FBS has one such refugee on staff.)

But Michael, you say, that wouldn’t be a benefit to us because you are encouraging these non-market forces to artificially raise the school’s tuition. Again, please read the Jealous plan and his goal to raise teacher (and staff) salaries significantly, and ask yourself: which teachers would you rather reward? And it’s not like I didn’t think about this aspect.

The kicker would be that, for parents who choose to send their child to a school that costs less than the state-allotted sum for the county (the $12,249 a year) the program would allow a portion of the savings to be passed on to the parents. Now I’m not saying they stroke a check directly to the parents, but instead a share of the savings (perhaps 20%) would be given to an account for the child created within the existing 529 program the state has to encourage college savings. They could maintain the same stipulations on use that already exist.

So here are the benefits:

  • Parents are free to send their child to any school which would accept them. This is key because it makes parents accountable for a child’s behavior – perhaps they will encourage good, respectful behavior from the children so as not to be expelled from a school that promotes good teaching.
  • Those parents would accrue money toward their child’s higher education – using my difference of $4,249 as an example, a 20% credit to their 529 plan would be almost $850, simply for shopping for a good deal and having a child accepted.
  • It would also create an incentive for public schools to both cut their costs (to help negate the advantage private schools have on cost) and improve themselves to be more attractive because, remember, having the child in the public school does not add to the college fund. But not all private schools have vocational programs, extracurricular activities, or athletics at a high level. For example, the large public schools locally are able to have robotics clubs that competes regionally and nationally whereas a small school like FBS just can’t.

And don’t think I forgot homeschoolers, who in theory cost the state nothing. They could be eligible for a small stipend from the state – perhaps $1,000 for an academic year and the 529 benefits the other parents get based on the larger savings – it would be over $2,000 a year added to that account.

And because these 529 funds are generally only allowed to be used at Maryland schools, it would create a boost to enrollment for those institutions as well as incentive to broaden their offerings.

The big loser in all this: a moribund public school system that’s been resistant to grassroots change and local control. They would remain as the backstop provider of education as they always have been. Yes, they will have the problem children but remember these children are problems because they weren’t brought up to behave properly and in a manner conducive for learning for those around them. Yet there could be a private school created to give these children the support they need, whether it’s just encouragement for slow learners or tough love for those who refuse to behave.

So this is some free advice I can give to a governor who has let me down in myriad ways since taking office: ignore the naysayers who tell you school choice is a bad thing. I’m not going to tell you the writer makes all invalid points, but I believe the bad seeds would be weeded out in short order because the public schools would be the first to tattle. After all, school choice is a winning issue because people get it.

Those who fret about school choice bringing on “the destruction of public schools” obviously sell themselves short. Sometimes we all need a kick in the behind to motivate us and two things are clear: the status quo isn’t working and simply throwing money at it isn’t changing that fact.

Given this will appear just before Independence Day, maybe it’s time to free those parents that care from the shackles of poor-performing public schools.

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