By Len Lazarick
The brief speeches at the Maryland State Education Association assembly on Saturday were clearly less important than the 20-page questionnaire the candidates had filled out to win the endorsement of the state’s largest union, the 76,000-strong educators.
Most of the nine Democrats for governor who spoke touted their own public school educations, their teacher parents or the teachers who “saved” their lives when a parent died. They also professed their dedication to funding and implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the massive revamping of state schools recommended by the Kirwan Commission and ardently backed by the union.
Probably the most interesting speeches came from the two candidates who knew there was no way they were going to get the union’s endorsement, Jerome Segal and Comptroller Peter Franchot. They both oppose the Blueprint.
Segal, 78, a former philosophy professor who founded, then disbanded the Democratic socialist Bread and Roses Party, trashed the Blueprint in a scathing, rapid-fire language. He called it “the worst document ever produced” on public education.
Franchot, as he has done throughout the past year campaigning for governor, didn’t even mention the Blueprint but promised that in four years, he would be known as “the greatest education governor in the history of Maryland.”
He then made alternative promises that would be as difficult to keep as the major changes in public schools in the Blueprint plan.
Franchot pledged to “reduce class size to 20” and “reduce standardized tests by 90%.”
“You know me,” he told the teachers several times, even reminding them of his support for starting school after Labor Day, a measure the union strongly opposed and eventually had reversed.
“I’m not talking about a bunch of BS,” said Franchot. He then promised that, if elected, he would allow the teachers to be first in line to board the planes at the state-run BWI airport.
Former attorney general Doug Gansler said he was “the only one who can win a general election.”
The biggest laugh line of the speeches came at Gansler’s expense. Jon Baron, a former nonprofit executive and federal official, said if he wasn’t elected this year, in 20 years the teachers union would be back in this assembly with the same problems facing public schools and “Doug Gansler will still be running for governor.”
The teachers union eventually voted to endorse Wes Moore, the author, former 82nd Airborne Army captain, and nonprofit executive. He promised, “I will be your greatest champion” and would “fully implement the Blueprint.” He also opposed any expansion of charter schools.
The endorsement of Moore was recommended to the assembly by the smaller endorsement council, which “nominated Moore based on his personal history as a Marylander with a commitment to service and leadership that aligns with MSEA’s goals for a world-class education for every student.” He got 85% of the up-or-down vote on the recommended endorsement.