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Jim Shea on equitable funding for Maryland schools, the teacher strikes sweeping the nation, and MLK’s legacy in Maryland 50 years after his assassination

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JAISAL NOOR: Primary Election Day, June 26, is quickly approaching, and there’s a number of candidates in the Democratic field vying to challenge Republican Governor Larry Hogan, the incumbent, in November. Well, at the Real News we’ll be sitting down with all the gubernatorial candidates to discuss their vision for public education. Today I’m joined by Jim Shea. He is former chair of the Board of Regents of the University of Maryland, University System of Maryland, the Empower Baltimore Management Corporation, and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. Thank you so much for joining us.

JIM SHEA: Thank you for having me.

JAISAL NOOR: So we’ve seen a wave of teacher strikes sweep the country, from West Virginia, to Kentucky, to Oklahoma. And one of the key issues facing teachers around the country is teacher pay and compensation and funding for education. Maryland ranks pretty, pretty well, as far as teacher pay. About eighth in the nation, according to some studies. But the state’s own findings have shown that Maryland schools are underfunded by 2.9 billion dollars a year. What would you do to address this? And do you think that this unrest among teachers could spread to Maryland as well?

JIM SHEA: Well, I have a full, comprehensive education plan that calls for restructuring, revamping our K-12, pre-K-12, and funding it properly. And one of the key elements of it is to improve the circumstances for our educators. That means everything from recruiting, educating, training, supporting, developing, peer review, and giving our educators the opportunity to advance without having to leave the ranks of teacher in the classroom. So often we have teachers who do better and better, need a pay raise. They’ll either leave or become part of the administration. We need to keep our really great teachers in the classroom teaching. All of us remember our education. It was that great teacher that turned this around.

So we rank eighth in teacher compensation. We rank first in income. So I don’t understand why we wouldn’t rank first in teacher pay. But more than that, the United States as a whole is way behind the rest of the world in our educational systems and techniques, including, particularly, how we support teachers. So being eighth in the United States puts us way down the line on a global platform. So as I say, a key element of my plan would be a career track for teachers that is much improved, including compensation. And sure, if we don’t do our job, the teachers will speak out and we will have unrest here.

JAISAL NOOR: So Larry Hogan, who you take aim at in your, in your education plan, he says the issue isn’t about funding, it’s about accountability. His efforts to increase accountability, which is really a keyword for deregulation of the public schools has failed. It’s not, it’s not advanced through in Annapolis. What’s your response to Governor Hogan?

JIM SHEA: Well, I think when Governor Hogan says accountability what he wants to do is blame people. His reaction to most problems is to point fingers and to blame, say it’s somebody else’s fault, not his. A leader, a true leader, takes responsibility. And what accountability really means is identifying where the problems are and helping to fix them. That’s the point of accountability. It’s not to blame people.

It’s a red herring as an issue. We as a society, we as a state, we as a community need to work together and need to be led to a much, much more robust education system. Better funded, better organized across the board.

JAISAL NOOR: And you mentioned international rankings, where the United States is behind some of the other countries in the developed world. But if you separate, if you, you know, take out the fact, I mean, you have to acknowledge the fact that the United States has the highest levels of child poverty in the developed world. Which is, you know, and it also has high levels of segregation which persists. Then the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination just passed. It was interesting because a lot of people don’t know that when he went to Chicago he said he faced, you know, he said he’s never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hateful as in Chicago when he was working to desegregate public schools and public housing, and integrate housing there. If you’re, if you’re elected, will you take on this issue of segregation, which persists in Maryland? And you know, it’s not to say that black children can’t learn with other black children. It’s the fact that, you know, segregated schools lack the resources available to schools that have access to more wealth.

JIM SHEA: You’ve packed an awful lot into a very, very, series of very good questions. Let me start back with one of the early things you said. When you compare the United States’ best students, the top quartile, to the rest of the world, not trying to take into account the full range of children that we educate, just take the top portion, we rank well into the third and fourth quartile when you compare us to other industrialized nations. There was a study that showed us, out of 52 industrialized nations, the top students in the United States were behind, considerably behind, the best of the rest of the world. It’s a very dangerous situation.

So the rationale that we’re, we try to educate such a broad group really doesn’t hold. We’re behind, particularly in the STEM disciplines, across the board. I think Dr. King would be very disappointed 50 years later in what he sees in the United States, and we should all be disappointed. We do need to tackle the concentrated poverty and the segregation that exists. It’s a product of housing. It’s a product of urban policies that have failed. It’s a product of a failed education system, as well. There’s no real opportunity for children in areas of concentrated poverty in this state. And yet the upper echelon is prospering, particularly in the economy today, and we’re pulling ourselves apart. It’s the number one rationale why I’m running for office. We need to come together as a community, and I think public education is the best way to do that.

JAISAL NOOR: So right now, the Kirwan commission, it’s been meeting for years now, and it’s finalizing its findings, which were delayed. So this, they weren’t addressed this year in Annapolis, but they will be addressed next year. So, Kirwan is looking at the issue of funding, and it’s using poverty as a proxy, right. It’s not explicitly dealing with race. Do you think it should look at racial equity when it’s, when Annapolis is looking at how to how to allocate these additional funds, which studies have found that some $2.9 billion every year that’s needed?

JIM SHEA: Well, I think that the income levels do reflect where we need to concentrate our efforts. So I think it’s a reasonable proxy, if you will. A reasonable thing to concentrate on. Poor children don’t do well, of whatever race they are. And we know that a disproportionate number of poor children are black, and that is desegregation you and I were just talking about. But I think it’s a reasonable approach. I think if we can really focus in on those who have the least, we’ll do much better.

And by the way, the best practices around the world do exactly that. They give the best teachers and the most concentrated resources to the children that have the least. And we’re not doing that in Maryland. In Maryland, our state, where we’re pretty complacent about our values, we fund schools that serve high-income children at a higher level than we fund schools that serve low-income children. That’s called a regressive system.

JAISAL NOOR: And it’s the state’s own findings, and independent studies have confirmed that.

JIM SHEA: Yes. We get a D in funding equity.

JAISAL NOOR: And so, I wanted to push back a little bit on Kirwan, because some of the advocates we’ve spoken to in Baltimore say that while poverty is a good start to examine opportunity, you know, it doesn’t factor in the legacy of segregation, the legacy of mass incarceration that still afflict communities today, especially in places like Baltimore.

JIM SHEA: I think that’s a fair point. I think it’s a very fair point. I think it ends up being reflected in poverty, those same factors. But I would not argue with you that that, that is worth a real hard look.

JAISAL NOOR: Now, what sets you apart from the other, you know, there’s a crowded field in the Democratic primary. What sets you apart from the other candidates?

JIM SHEA: Well, I think it’s two things. One, I think I have executive experience. I’ve run very large organizations, both public and private. The university system is the largest public agency in the state. And the business I built is the largest in Maryland and one of the largest in the world. But secondly, I’ve looked at the issues in a comprehensive and thorough way. When we talk about education I have a concrete, well- thought out plan to resolve our our problems in education and to advance the ball. And I think those two things set me apart. We all want good education. Larry Hogan wants good education. But I have both the skills and experience as well as the plan to get it accomplished.

JAISAL NOOR: So I wanted to ask you about charter schools and voucher schools, something that our Education Secretary Betsy DeVos strongly believes in. She is spread, worked to spread them for decades around the country. She was questioned on 60 Minutes and couldn’t answer for the fact that after 20 years of those policies in Michigan, Michigan students have the worst, the worst gain in achievement in the entire country. Do you believe that the state should adopt, you know, Maryland is a state with some of the strongest regulations on charter schools, should deregulate some of the controls on charter schools in the state?

JIM SHEA: Well, I think we need to separate, particularly in Maryland, the difference between vouchers and charter schools. We have some very fine charter schools that are doing well, and I think that we should continue to let them innovate in the way they’ve been doing. But, but when you talk about vouchers or charter schools that are deregulated in effect, you’re talking about a very different thing. The theory there is, essentially, I don’t want to pay for the education of somebody else’s child. And when I hear that, I stop the person. I say, oh really. Do you fly commercial airlines? And they say, yeah, sure. I say, do you realize that the pilot who landed safely the last time you flew is somebody else’s child? And that’s the point. We, we need as a society to educate everyone. And if we do it helps everyone. So the notion that we should concentrate our, our, our efforts on what amounts to separated education systems is not the way to go.

JAISAL NOOR: So, you know, to fund Maryland schools the way that studies have found it, you know, bringing its number $2.9 billion a year. You know, whoever’s governor next year is going to need to build support to increase that spending into into public schools. Do you think that taxes need to be raised on the wealthy and on corporations to help do that? Or how is that, where’s that money going to come from?

JIM SHEA: I don’t think we need to raise taxes. Right now we are the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Our general revenues are increasing substantially each year.

If we had just funded education at the same rate of increase that the general fund has increased we’d be over $300 million ahead of where we are right now. We have sources of revenue without new taxes that are available. We are phasing in the lockbox on the casino, which was supposed to have been done years ago.

JAISAL NOOR: Ten years ago is what the voters had on the ballot.

JIM SHEA: And if we had been doing that, that too would have amounted to a lot of money. There are lots of ways to save money within the school systems by uniting the 24 jurisdictions in procurement. There are new sources of revenue that will be coming available. Marijuana is regulated and will be taxed. And I think there’s a lot of money there. Online sports gambling is about to be thrown back to the states, and that will be another source of revenue. There there’s plenty of revenue. What we need is political will. And you alluded to that in the beginning of your question there. There needs to be a groundswell of support among Marylanders for vastly improving our public education. I think it’s there, but it needs to be nurtured and led and developed.

JAISAL NOOR: So we talked about teachers and teacher workforce. Do you think that more needs to be done to cultivate a more diverse teacher workforce in the state?

JIM SHEA: I mentioned that recruiting good teachers is paramount. We don’t have enough teachers, we have too many students per classroom. And we need, we need great teachers. And that, by definition, means a diverse set of teachers.

JAISAL NOOR: And can you talk about what you, you know, the issue of improving schools. There’s so many things in your, in your education platform. Talk about what else you think needs to be done to improve public education in this state.

JIM SHEA: OK. Well, early childhood intervention is critical. The studies show that a child from a low-income family arriving at kindergarten is 5 to 1 behind the kid from high income families in vocabulary. And that’s, those are the building blocks of learning. So we need a much earlier intervention, universal pre-K for children of low-income families probably earlier than four years old. Surely earlier than four years old. I’ve talked about the teachers. We need to do the same kind of tracking for principals because they’re crucial to the schools. We need a much better vocational educational system, right up through graduation from high school, but including community colleges and apprenticeship programs, and retraining. In our world today people lose their job when they’re 45, 50, 55, want to keep working, but they’ve lost their job because of innovation. That’s a real social cost. We reap the benefits of that innovation, but we need to cover the cost of it, which is retraining. I would say universal retraining for everyone, in order to get the skills needed for the jobs of today. And of course all of that as we’ve talked means to be funded effectively.

And I think the final thing is to look real hard at curricula, and make sure that we’ve got good solid curricula that are not dependent on a lot of testing children. And young people need to learn, and it didn’t help anybody to spend a lot of time learning how to fill in the dots on a standardized test. We could do a whole lot less of that.

JAISAL NOOR: And finally, what effort would you make to engage communities and families and students in further developing and implementing, if elected, your plan to reshape public education?

JIM SHEA: Well, that’s crucial, isn’t it. We talked about the will to fund education, and whether that would be acceptable. There’s a lot more to it than just funding. The involvement of the family in a young person’s education, studies have shown, is crucial. And particularly in community schools, and the programs that we’ve got, substantially involved the families, and I think have shown to be very successful.

JAISAL NOOR: All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Jim Shea, you’re going to be on the ballot on June 26, so thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

JIM SHEA: Thank you very much.

JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.

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