The Maryland General Assembly must override Hogan's veto on the Blueprint for Maryland's Future
Joe Francaviglia struggled for years with getting mental health resources for his students. “I taught 33 eighth graders my second period, and the class had at least eight kids with serious mental health needs,” Francaviglia, a former teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools and current Executive Director of Strong Schools Maryland, said. “We had one school psychologist who was there part-time. My class alone would have filled her caseload.”
Even at Blair, students frequently have to wait in long lines to speak to their guidance counselors. This is not an adequate situation for students or teachers. We deserve better. We demand the enactment of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a monumental education reform bill, passed in March by the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates, that addresses education-related issues, including the allocation of mental health resources.
The Blueprint has five main components: retaining high quality and diverse teachers, investing in early childhood education, ensuring all students are college and career ready, giving students the resources they need to be successful, and establishing a board to oversee the implementation of the bill. Unfortunately, Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the Blueprint in May, citing economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.
In reality, the pandemic has only further emphasized the need for the Maryland General Assembly to push legislation that will help alleviate the inequities exacerbated by COVID-19. Now, more than ever, it is critical that the General Assembly overrides Hogan’s veto to ensure that every Maryland student gets the quality education we deserve—and the resources we need in both the short and long-term.
During a normal year, the pressures of school work cause plenty of anxiety for students, but this stress is minuscule compared to the effects of COVID-19 and social isolation. According to EAB, an education consulting group headquartered in Washington, D.C.,75 percent of children receiving mental health care accessed that support in school. It is inevitable that while students learn virtually, some of them are not receiving the help that they need. While school counseling departments are doing their best to adapt to these challenging times, we must ensure that they have the staff and materials to provide even better support when we emerge from the pandemic.
If passed, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future would provide funding for more social workers, counselors, and psychologists, as well as place an emphasis on helping students with trauma. That is especially key now, as the pandemic has only increased trauma in the community, with some students losing loved ones to COVID-19 and others facing detrimental economic loss. Without the mental health resources they need, many students struggle to focus on their schoolwork and have a difficult time succeeding academically and socially. Students must have adults who are looking out for their psychological and educational well-being.
Besides supporting the mental health of students, Julie Palakovich Carr, who represents District 17 (Rockville and Gaithersburg) in the Maryland House of Delegates, believes that the bill will also bolster the education system. “It really is a landmark bill that is meant to dramatically improve the quality of public school education across the state of Maryland,” she explained. Some ways the Blueprint would do this are by making pre-kindergarten available to all students and improving the working conditions of teachers.
One of the best ways to guarantee measures like these ones and to accomplish the passing of the Blueprint is by working with community groups. Francaviglia’s Strong Schools Maryland, for example, is an organization that aims to create the best schools for Maryland students by lobbying for the Blueprint’s passage.
On a more local level, students can get involved by joining Montgomery County Students Towards Equitable Public Schools (STEPS), a student advocacy group that is working to ensure the Blueprint passes. “We're going to sit down with elected officials in Montgomery County and just make sure that we can secure the yes vote,” Avery Smedley, a senior at Albert Einstein High School and the lead organizer of STEPS, said. Students can and should also call their state representatives to encourage them to override the veto.
“This is not just about the next 20 weeks for schools; this is about the next 20 years,” Francaviglia explained. “What kind of schools do we want our students to attend when we emerge from this pandemic?”
The answer is clear. We need schools with adequate mental health resources. We need pre-kindergarten for all students. We need to give all students the resources they need to be successful. We need the General Assembly to override Governor Hogan’s veto to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.