As a 31-year educator and local education association president in Charles County, I know how important it is to pass the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and create strong schools in every neighborhood by expanding career and technical education, hiring more educators and expanding their pay, providing additional support for struggling leaners, and delivering a more prosperous future for our state.

Strong public schools are crucial for our students and our communities. No matter what neighborhood a child lives in, there should be a strong public school for them to attend. The current education funding formula from 2002 is woefully out of date. The percentage of Maryland public school students living in poverty is currently 45% — that is over twice what it was in 1990 (22%). As of the 2015 school year, an independent study found an annual funding shortfall of $2.9 billion statewide: that’s about $2 million per school. Just think what could be improved with $2 million in your child’s school. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is key to making school funding in our state adequate, equitable and sustainable.

It is known that we are in the middle of a teacher shortage nationwide. Teacher education programs in our universities and colleges are diminishing, or being eliminated entirely, because of lack of enrollment. Teaching is the profession that makes all other professions possible, yet 47% of new teachers leave the profession by their third year. Building our profession will begin with better salaries and resources for our educators. We need to increase teacher salaries to bring them on par with similar professions and high performing states like New Jersey and Massachusetts. Teachers need time and resources to collaborate, to plan engaging and impactful lessons, and to hone their craft. This will not only positively impact student achievement, but it will also enable us to recruit and retain the very best educators to our state. Charles County is known for being a county where teachers start out, get relevant training and experience, but then go elsewhere for better pay, smaller class sizes and lower cost of living. We need to build our state as a place where educators want to teach, stay long term and make it their own.

Strong schools depend not just on increased funding for educator salaries, but on providing increased funding for our struggling learners. We need more school counselors and psychologists in our schools, more trauma-infused instruction, improved cultural competency and bias awareness training, and more training on restorative practices. There is funding in the Blueprint for a mental health services coordinator in every school system beginning in FY2020.

It also provides an increase of $60 million in funding for English language learners and an increased $106.5 million for special education students by FY2024. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future would help us in our schools here, in Charles County, with resources and opportunities.

The Blueprint is not a silver bullet, it is not a “quick fix.” Rather, it is a well thought out, researched, methodical infusion of resources and funding, priorities and accountability measures that will benefit our schools, our students, our community and our state. Our state legislators need to hear from us to pass the Blueprint. This is not a situation where our community needs to sit on our hands and let the system work for us. It is a clarion call for action to each one of us. We need to urge our legislators to pass the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future in the 2020 legislative session. Our children, and our future, depend on us to act decisively and in their best interests.

Linda McLaughlin, Hughesville