ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s House Majority Whip introduced sweeping education reform legislation this week that includes electing the state superintendent of schools, and credited the measures to two Maryland moms who call themselves the “Education Doctors.”
The five bills sponsored by Delegate George W. Owings, D-Calvert, are similar to legislation that died in committee last year.
Though he acknowledged the measures are “aggressive,” Owings said the House Ways and Means Committee will give the bills a fair hearing this year.
“We’ll go through the process, the moves will be made by the respective parties,” he said. “Both sides will be aired.”
The bills call for the election of the state superintendent of schools and an eight-member State Board of Education. The 11-member board, which picks the superintendent, is now appointed by the governor.
The legislation also defines “adequate education”; mandates that only multiple choice tests be administered by the state; obliges the state to make test questions and scores available within three weeks of the test date; requires curriculum to conform to federal television guidelines for minors; and orders parents of children under age 15 to provide written consent for instruction.
“This is a starting point,” Owings said. “The committee will hear many different ways to massage the whole package of bills.”
The package comes at a time when education is among the hottest topics in the General Assembly. Lawmakers are trying to find funding for more than $45 million in extra money for cost-of-education and -living under the landmark Thornton school reform plan.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich failed to include the funding in his budget this year, after the state attorney general concluded it was not mandated. But he has said the money could be replaced if slot machine gambling is approved, as he’s requested.
But Zalee Harris, one of the two “Education Doctor” moms, said she and colleague Patricia Brady Dennis presented the legislation to Owings because it is based on their years of research of state and federal education law.
The Prince George’s County women have “become dismayed with the State Department of Education in their relentless pursuit of usurping parental rights and becoming accountable to nobody in this state,” Harris said. “This aims to create a wedge in undoing what the state has put into play as their education reform agenda.”
The state has not been doing its part in raising minority student performance, despite the landmark Thornton education plan that seeks to equalize funds and opportunities throughout the state, said Harris, who does not work in the education field.
“It’s a false sense of hope,” she said of Thornton. In addition, Maryland is falling behind in its quest to meet guidelines of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Harris said.
Some of the problems rest with State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, who has been in her position since 1991, she said.
“We don’t need another year of her being at the helm with this much consistency in failure,” Harris said.
Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard declined to comment on Harris’ statements about Grasmick but said, “we’ve seen some of these same bills in the past. We’re focused on improving education in Maryland.”
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said the governor had not reviewed Owings’ bills and had not taken a position on them.