Maryland Governor to NEA: ‘Do Not Give Up’
By Cynthia McCabe and Samantha Kappalman
NEW ORLEANS – NEA members must rally behind education jobs funding moving now to the U.S. Senate and they must never give up – even in “very frustrating” times – Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Monday while accepting NEA’s America’s Greatest Education Governor Award at the Representative Assembly.
The annual award is presented to a governor who has made major, statewide efforts to improve public education. O’Malley took office in 2007, just months before the nation plunged into a deep recession. But even faced with economic devastation, he ensured the state would move forward on public education.
“It’s the responsibility of those of us in government to stand by you, and to give you the tools, resources and support that you need so that our students succeed in the classroom,” O’Malley told an appreciative audience of more than 8,100 delegates.
Just last week, O’Malley stood in solidarity with the NEA at a bipartisan press conference calling on Congress to support the Education Jobs Fund and reimburse states for Medicaid payments. Without that happening, states would have to lay off hundreds of thousands of educators. Already, 138,000 NEA member educators now face layoffs.
O’Malley has proven to be a governor who follows his own advice. During his time in office, Maryland has authorized the funding necessary to make great strides in closing the achievement gap. He’s insisted that underprivileged and minority students be taught by teachers as highly qualified as those who teach economically advantaged students.
That approach is paying off. In 2009, 7.5 percent of Hispanic students and 9.6 percent of African-American students earned a score of 3 or better on at least one AP exam during high school. That’s up from 5.7 percent and 7 percent, respectively, in 2004.
Maryland college tuition didn’t increase in the past four years, at O’Malley’s urging.
And while some politicians profess to want to hear from educators, few have taken such concrete steps to do that. Maryland recently conducted an opinion poll of educators, asking them about everything from working conditions to optimal learning for children and professional development.
“Lots of governors like to think of themselves as education governors, but Governor O’Malley has really earned that accolade,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. He added, with a chuckle, after the speech: “If we had just 50 of those, what a world it would be.”
The Maryland governor is only the third person to receive NEA’s prestigious Greatest Education Governor Award. Previous winners were Gov. Richardson of New Mexico and Gov. Easley of North Carolina.
Some of O’Malley’s other accomplishments: reinvigorating Maryland’s Career and Technology Education and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs statewide, and launching the comprehensive Maryland STEM Innovation Network to promote the delivery of high quality STEM education at all levels throughout the state.
“Governor O’Malley has consistently placed public education at the top of his agenda,” said Clara Floyd, president of the Maryland State Education Association. “In the most difficult of economic times, he championed historic funding of k-12 public schools, which has increased student achievement and led us to become No. 1 in the nation.”
Photos: Calvin Knight/NEA (top photo); Scott Iskowitz/NEA (bottom photo)