ANNAPOLIS In his State of the State address Thursday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening reaffirmed at least one Prince George’s County delegate’s reason for coming to Annapolis.
“I came here … because of my concern about the education and the well-being of our children. It brought tears to my eyes the way [the governor] brought passion and commitment to what he said,” said Delegate Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George’s.
The county needs to build new schools and renovate old ones so children can attend class in their own neighborhoods, said Benson, who has spent 37 years as an educator.
“In my nine years [as a delegate], I have never been so moved or energized by a State of the State address,” Benson said. “Finally we have a governor who understands that education will further our children’s futures. They are taking care of our babies for a change.”
Glendening focused his address on education, saying it was “the single most important issue to which we must dedicate ourselves in order to meet our full potential.”
“In the 21st century, the greatest skill will be the capacity to acquire new skills,” Glendening said. “In the new economy, acquiring knowledge will be a life-long journey, not just a destination to be reached.”
Important in reaching this goal, Glendening said, is cutting class size by building new classrooms. Smaller classrooms would allow more individualized attention. Students especially need this individualized attention in core subjects such as math and reading, Glendening said.
The governor also voiced concerns about teacher certification. Pointing to his home county of Prince George’s, Glendening said over 40 percent of the new teachers hired last year in the county were not certified to teach in their area of instruction.
All counties will be required to reduce their percentages to 2 percent, Glendening said.
Rushern L. Baker III, D-Prince George’s, chairman of the county delegation, was hesitant in his approval of Glending’s speech.
“I don’t want us to be penalized in Prince George’s County” for the county’s high rate of uncertified teachers, Baker said. “I am concerned to the extent we might be hurt by that [requirement].”
Money was put in the budget last session to certify instructors teaching out of their discipline, Baker said. Prince George’s County has not yet tapped into that pot, and it needs to be used, he said.
The county also needs to tap state funds to hire certified teachers, Baker said.
Overall, though, Baker said, it was hard to argue with what the governor said.
“A lot of the things in his speech, we just can’t disagree with,” Baker said.
In addition to education, Glendening mentioned protecting the environment; Smart Growth, a project to protect natural areas from further development; and a civil rights bill to strengthen Maryland’s anti-discrimination policy. He also spoke of the importance of a patients bill of rights, and the proposed tobacco tax.
Baker said Glendening’s support of these issues is in- line with Prince George’s County’s priorities.
Some in the delegation, however, were less impressed with the governor’s speech.
“I can’t say I’m disappointed [in the address], but I was surprised that it did not address the full range of issues, namely the transportation issue,” said Anthony G. Brown, D-Prince George’s County.
While agreeing education is an extremely important issue, Brown said it was not the only issue. Transportation is one of the top three most important issues for Prince George’s County, Brown said. With no mention of the proposed gas tax in Glendening’s address, Brown is concerned transportation might get swept to the wayside.
“The gas tax is ‘the’ tax we’re looking at to fund transportation issues,” Brown said.
Transportation issues in Prince George’s County include repairing and widening the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Beltway alternative roads, such as U.S. Route 1. -30-