Why you should care
In a state that prides itself on education, nearly half of teachers are taking second jobs to make ends meet.
Maryland has one of the oddest governor races in the nation. It’s an overwhelmingly blue state, according to registered voters, that nonetheless has Republican incumbent Larry Hogan leading the polls thanks to his reputation for bipartisanship. The day after Labor Day, Hogan announced the launch of three television spots — his first major ad forays into the general election. The focus in each of them? Education.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, wow, we’ve accomplished a heckuva lot,’” says Hogan in one spot, touting education funding increases and promising he isn’t done yet. The ad buy shows Hogan believes education will be a top priority for voters in November, as does his Democratic opponent, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who has released plans to create universal pre-K, free community colleges and teacher salary raises of 29 percent. That’s not a bad bet: Education was by far the No. 1 issue in one poll released by progressive advocacy group Maryland Matters last December, with half of the voters surveyed saying too little was being spent on it.
But the picture Hogan paints of his accomplishments isn’t necessarily as rosy as his ads suggest. After five years of having its education system ranked highest in the nation by Education Week magazine, Maryland has dropped during each of Hogan’s four years as governor, and now trails New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts. An independent analysis funded by Hogan’s State Department of Education said Maryland public schools were underfunded by $2.9 billion annually. Those fiscal pangs are being felt not just in the classroom but also by those leading them.
More than 40 percent of Maryland educators have second jobs.
That number, from a survey conducted by the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) teachers union, is twice the national average. Sure, some teachers in Maryland are working as afternoon tutors. But others are working as waitresses or ride-share drivers for Uber or Lyft. “As a teacher on the weekends, I worked at Subway, I worked at Blockbuster,” says Cherly Bost, an elementary schoolteacher currently on leave while she serves as president of the MSEA. In addition, three-fifths of educators said pay “makes it hard for my family to make ends meet,” while 90 percent said they paid for school supplies out of their own pockets.
The state also requires teachers to continue paying for higher education courses, putting even more pressure on their budgets. Last year, the median salary for Maryland teachers was $65,852, the ninth-highest in the nation — but that is offset somewhat by dealing with America’s fifth-highest living costs. Teachers’ strikes across the U.S., from Oklahoma to West Virginia, have also put a spotlight on their dire situation.
Until we fully fund education, no other theory of education works.
Ben Jealous, Maryland gubernatorial candidate
Hogan often responds that education funding in Maryland has never been higher, which is true. State laws require a minimum level of spending increases each year, done by a formula that legislators worked out two decades ago. “There have never been cuts. It’s been cuts to increases,” says Marta Hummel Mossburg, a visiting fellow at the conservative-leaning Maryland Public Policy Institute. She points out that teachers have three months off every summer, reasoning that a second job isn’t so outlandish. In 2016, Hogan started a $5 million state voucher program that has offered scholarships for more than 2,600 Maryland students to go to private or religious schools, a “school choice” program that Mossburg praises. “Let’s rethink our education system,” she says, “instead of putting more money into it.”
Still, Bost says the 20-year-old funding formulas are outdated, established in a time before tech became a necessity, and school counselors and psychologists became the norm. “[Hogan] has used what we call a floor of funding as his ceiling for funding,” she says. Could more money make a difference?
“Until we fully fund education, no other theory of education works — they are all premised on that notion,” Jealous says, pointing to global examples of countries that lead in educational outcomes, such as Norway and Japan. “They may have very different approaches to education, but they all have one thing in common: They treat teaching as a first-class profession,” he says. At this point, Maryland teachers would probably settle for being able to call teaching their only profession.