ANNAPOLIS — Proposed legislation to enforce state curriculum mandates by way of restricting funding for non-compliance is meeting pushback from several factions across the state, including local school officials in Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.
House Bill 119, passed earlier this month, sets new standards in place for curriculum guides and instruction, including health education. The bill also grants the state superintendent of schools authority to withhold funds from the county board of education if he determines they are “not following the State Board policy and guidelines or is authorizing students to opt–out of instruction in a manner that is not approved by the State Board.”
Talbot County Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Pepukayi said the county would be joining other boards and superintendents in sending a letter to both legislators and the community expressing the county’s opposition to the bill.
Kent County Public Schools Board of Education President Joe Goetz said he is also opposed to the bill and similar amendments to Senate Bill 199.
“If passed, this legislation would result in a total state takeover of local control over all curriculum frameworks, standards, and even instructional materials,” Goetz said. “These responsibilities belong under the purview of local school boards and school systems.”
Goetz is also the president of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE).
In a statement released by MABE March 8, the organization expressed their strong opposition to House Bill 119.
“Originally introduced as legislation focused on the state health curriculum, this bill recently has been dramatically amended, amounting to total state takeover of local control over all curriculum frameworks, standards, and even instructional materials,” the statement said.
The statement continued: “Few issues matter more to Maryland school boards when it comes to effectively carrying out their important work than local governance. The most recent, amended version of HB 119 would effectively negate this vital, long standing role regarding curriculum — one which has directly contributed for so many years to the strength recognized nationwide of Maryland’s public school systems.”
One particular concern MABE voiced is that the bill would empower the State Superintendent of Schools to enforce local compliance by withholding “massive amounts of state funding, in that HB 119 grants absolute authority to the State Superintendent to decide if a local school system is not following every detail of the state standards — and then withhold millions of dollars in much needed state funding.”
MABE also issued a call-to-action via Twitter to all Maryland citizens to write to their delegates and senators demanding that the House bill be withdrawn.
Queen Anne’s County Board of Education President Marc Schifanelli said, “In my capacity as president, I can only echo our open statement, to wit: That the QAC BOE believes ‘that all local school systems must retain the autonomy, rights, and responsibility to choose curriculum content that best meets the needs of their students, and as current Maryland law provides;’ and that we support the position taken by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE).”
Schifanelli also responded to questions about the petition started by parents to remove State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury. From a personal standpoint, not speaking as school board president, Schifanelli said, he did empathize and support the public’s vehement opposition to the state superintendent’s actions as expressed in, “perhaps symbolically,” that petition.
Carroll County resident Bryan Thompson, who began the petition to remove Choudhury, said he hoped circulating the petition would put pressure on the State board to consider if Choudhury is suitable for the position.
Citing an instance in which Thompson said Carroll County Public Schools were led to believe a lack of cooperation on the “Family Life Curriculum” with Choudhury would result in restricted funding from the State, Thompson said this type of relationship with the state superintendent is not one that facilitates trust, especially when considering the issues faced by many districts as they navigate the mandates of the Blueprint.
“We’ve heard from over 1,300 Maryland residents who support Choudhury’s removal, including current and former employees of the education czar who have described a toxic, dysfunctional work environment in the Maryland State Department of Education,” Thompson said. “This is not fair to our great MSDE workers and puts the entire implementation of the Maryland Blueprint at risk.”
In a letter directed to the General Assembly this month, the State Board of Education President issued a statement pulling back the board’s support of House Bill 119.
“The State Board does not believe that the additional authority proposed in House Bill 119 is needed considering the brad visitatorial authority entrusted to the State Board regarding educational policies of the state and the State Superintendent’s authority to carry out those policies,” wrote MSDE President Clarence Crawford.
A blog post from the Concerned Parents of Carroll County, a group which has expressed opposition to the bill and the state superintendent, called the statement “a major blow to Choudhury’s pursuit of complete top-down control of our education system.”
Echoing those sentiments, Jan Greenhawk, speaking as the chair of the Talbot County chapter of Moms for Liberty and the Family Advocacy Alliance, during last week’s TCPS board meeting, said, “We want you, the members of the Talbot County Board of Education, to know that we stand behind you and your authority to make decisions regarding the education of children in Talbot County. That’s why you were elected; we put our trust in you, and we don’t want that overridden by anybody in the state.”
“We don’t always agree with everything you decide to do. We ask a lot of questions; sometimes you’ll hear from us when there’s things that we don’t think are going well, and you’ll hear from us when we think things are going very well. But we want you to know that we have your back,” she said. “If anyone tries to take your rights as a board of education, and yes, as a superintendent of schools, that they try to take your rights away from you to run this school system the way it should be run, we will be there with you.”
“Please don’t let anyone tell you that you need to be silent and that you can’t speak for our kids and our community,” Greenhawk added.
After passing the House of Delegates with a 96-37 vote, the House bill was sent to the Senate’s Energy, Education and the Environment Committee. The Senate version of the bill has not advanced past the committee.
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