Rascovar: The Hogan-DeVos-Trump school threat

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

When it comes to dealing with the Maryland General Assembly, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan could well be called “Mr. Irrelevant.”

He’s threatening to veto a batch of bills recently enacted by Democrats in the state legislature – yet he lacks the votes to support his negative actions.

It amounts to more venting of angry “sound and fury” by the highly partisan governor that gets him nowhere.

He still insists on playing “Mr. Nasty” when he goes on conservative talk shows or holds a staged media event, denouncing Democratic lawmakers and their proposals in harsh terms as though their proposals will bring down the wrath of a furious GOP deity on Maryland citizens.

He demands that Democrats abandon their ideological beliefs and join Hogan’s Heroes in marching lockstep behind his decidedly conservative agenda.

A week of vetoes

This State House drama is nearing a climax in what could be called “veto week.” Democrats rushed through a number of bills Hogan could well reject – but there’s still time in the General Assembly session for near-certain veto-override votes.

The biggest Hogan hissy fit is likely to surround the “Protect Our Schools Act of 2017,” a Democratic measure that more accurately could be called “Protect Our State from Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.”

The bill stems from fear that Hogan wants to impose a Republican education agenda on local school systems – dozens of charter schools, lots and lots of vouchers for kids to opt out of public schools, more aid to religious schools, private companies running under-performing schools and a state takeover of the worst-performing schools.

Democratic legislators fear the new U.S. Department of Education secretary will move heaven and earth to eliminate public schools and replace them with charter, religious and privatized schools. That’s what DeVos – who married into the billionaire family that founded and runs Amway – has loudly advocated for years.

It’s pretty much what Trump trumpeted on the presidential campaign trail last year, too.

And it’s awfully close to what Hogan has been seeking as his way to “improve” education in Maryland.

He tried to get a bill passed this session creating a special board with the power to authorize charter schools at the drop of a hat and without local school board approval. Private schooling is Hogan’s panacea for improving education achievement.

Sounding the alarm

No wonder Democrats in Annapolis are alarmed. They aren’t going to let Hogan undercut public education systems in Maryland’s 24 subdivisions, which is what privatization, charter schools and a wide-spread voucher system could do.

Hogan falsely claims the Democrats’ bill he plans to veto will cost Maryland $250 million in federal funds under an improvement plan the state must submit to Washington.

But he intentionally ignores the fact that the new Republican president has essentially gutted that required improvement plan put in place by the Obama administration.

What Hogan has pledged to veto is a defensive bill Democrats urgently want on the books to block the Hogan-DeVos-Trump triumvirate from directly imposing their will on failing schools or creating – without local approval – charter schools and vast voucher systems.

The Baltimore Sun’s editorial page rightly pointed out that the legislature is stepping too forcefully into education matters better left to the state education board. The state board has complained, too, about legislative overreach.

Yet given the fact the Republican governor is slowly converting that board into a conservative panel that could well embrace the Hogan-DeVos-Trump education agenda, the restrictions spelled out in the Democrats’ bill are quite understandable.

Reelection takes priority

None of this needed to happen.

Had Hogan opted to make love not war with Democratic legislators, Maryland could be making greater headway on classroom achievement – including agreements on permitting more charter schools in the state.

But Larry Hogan is first and foremost a political survivalist who appears most interested in his reelection, not in finding compromises on sensible bills that improve life in Maryland.

The result is a preventive measure drafted by alarmed and worried Democrats that almost certainly will go on the books. Hogan could have avoided this confrontation, but unlike General Electric, progress is not his most important product – politics is.

He’ll continue to denounce and demonize Democrats, alleging that Maryland will lose federal school funds. He’ll continue to ream out Democrats for “outrageous and irresponsible” actions that he asserts are blocking his education reforms.

It’s all designed to construct a reelection campaign story in which the poor, underappreciated underdog governor, a man trying to do the right thing, finds himself once again under attack from mean, corrupt, unethical Democrats in Annapolis.

Meanwhile, the exceedingly difficult task of finding ways to improve learning in Maryland’s public schools gets shuttled to the sidelines. Politics, not policy, must come first.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is politicalmaryland.com. His address is brascovar@hotmail.com.


  1. Dale McNamee

    Maryland’s “sainted” public schools that get $ millions from the taxpayers to “provide an excellent education” for students and when we see anything but that…

    Our “educational racket” could use a shake up and competition !

  2. Kim Skimmons

    It’s hard to take seriously an article so full of cliches and politically charged phrases. However, to the larger concern re: vouchers and public schools, it seems like anytime someone proposes changes to public schools that involve ceding some control a huge dust-up follows accusing the proposer of being anti-kid, anti-education, etc. Why can’t we give some ideas a try? We’ve been trying and trying to make minor changes over a very long period of time to the existing framework and we’ve achieved literally nothing, statistically speaking. The same problems exist today that existed 15 years ago re: achievement gaps, poor quality inner city schools, and kids who slip through the cracks. No statistically significant progress has been made. Why not try something different?

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

    I’ll say this: Anyone who has ever had a child who could not thrive in their assigned public school, for a variety of reasons (e.g., poor quality, rampant poverty, crime, inability to connect with the instructional approach due to learning differences, social problems, learning disabilities, student-school mismatch, so many more) knows how painful it is to watch that child struggle every single day, come home exhausted, lose all motivation to engage in learning, watch their self-esteem erode before your very eyes day by day. And you know how utterly helpless you are as a parent to do anything about it for the most part. It’s heartbreaking and leads to many a private tearful moment. Wealthier parents by nature of their wealth have “school choice” already in order to sidestep these situations. Those of more modest means do not.

    I’m a huge advocate for public schools, I’ve fought for them for a long time, I’ve served on PTA boards for 15+ years, but it’s not for every child and we need to put the child first. I had one child who was a square peg in the round hole of MCPS education. She had a two-year respite in a very small, private high school that was wonderful but we could not afford to keep her there and back to MCPS she went and it was horrible. She’s now almost 21 and still struggling to regain confidence in her abilities. What we wouldn’t have given for a voucher to even partially cover the tuition at her private HS. Maybe she’d be a different person today on a very different trajectory.

    I can personally list off half a dozen similar stories of kids who failed to thrive, several with devastating results, in their public school, even so-called “great” public schools as my kids’ public schools are by any common measure.

    Vouchers are not the enemy of public education. There is a real place for them to fill real needs. They *can* coexist with and complement public education, and public education does not need to carry the entire load for every single student. Sharing the load can be a win-win for students, schools and our country if done properly. How many more kids can our country afford to write off? None, really. And when your kid is one of the lamentable write-offs then you know the frustration first hand because you’ve been on the battlefield for a long time and have the scars to prove it.

    What is the root of the real fear behind this? Surely it’s not a genuine fear for all the children. It’s politics. If everyday people would take a sincere, objective look at the problem together we might be able to find smart ways to help more kids reach their potential, break out of cycles of poverty, overcome disabilities, improve mental health, and improve outcomes. What is wrong with that? What have we got to lose by trying? It *can* be done and for the sake of a whole bunch of lost kids we must set politics aside and try.

  3. Concerned

    Unless you have taught and been in the trenches of an inner-city public school, you won’t have an idea of what it is like. If you want to “fix” our Maryland School System, get up off your freaking butt and volunteer. Use a hands-on approach to “fixing” what you think is wrong… get I there “up-to-your-elbows” deep in helping our students. Go to PTA meetings, volunteer to tutor, read to a class, or volunteer at an after-school programs. Make sure you have chosen a Title 1 school with free and reduced lunch and breakfast. Make sure it’s a school with a high mobility rate, in other words a school where students are coming and going throughout the year. After your volunteer adventure, then you can come back and stand with us to support public schools… because EVERYONE, including disadvantaged and low-income students deserve a chance at quality education. Vouchers won’t “buy” your way into Maryland’s top private schools, which reside on Roland Park Avenue or into the top Catholic schools. #unitedwestand

  4. Bethesdagal

    Yes, by ALL means, let’s stay the course and let public school systems continue to slide downhill, as they are doing in Montgomery County that used to be in the national top tier. They just did away with much of the final testing because test scores were declining, many say due to the increasing illegal alien population. So instead of fixing the PROBLEM, they eliminate the REPORTING of the problem. Typical of Mont. Co. and it’s Apple Ballot. More like Apple Bal-NOT !

    • Lisa Moore

      MoCo education is owned by Pearson (Common Core aligned)… Pearson curriculum and PARCC aligned testing. Common Core is the reason MoCo continues to slide downhill and nothing else. MD Parents should ban together and REFUSE the tests. MSDE should sever ties with Pearson as most other states have done (there are only 7 states still contracted with Pearson/PARCC). You can’t fix the problem until you stop testing it to death as the only thing the tests show is that POVERTY is a major factor. Get education reform out of the classrooms, stop the top down approach to education and let teachers get back to the job of teaching children. Just think of it this way….you can’t make a pig gain weight by weighing it everyday. You must feed it quality food and give it exercise to make it grow. If you want children to learn, then you must allow for a quality education with a wide variety of subject matter, music & arts, healthy food and plenty of exercise.

  5. Lisa Moore

    I don’t think the Governor has a clue what goes on with education in the state of MD. He listens to Finn and Smarick, 2 big education reformers that he appointed to the MSDE board. He is spouting off their rhetoric. I generally like the man’s governance, except for his education policy. If he doesn’t start listening to parents and educators, I believe that his education policy will be the issue likely to lead to him losing the next election for Governor.

  6. jonjen

    Thanks for the warning. Will follow the progress of this bill.