(Updated 8/29/2017) Residents across Baltimore —and throughout our state — awoke to the news that the city’s confederate monuments had been taken down overnight. Days later, we learned that the 150-year-old statue dedicated to Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney was removed from our State House in Annapolis. It is clear: these monuments masquerading as art are really relics promoting white supremacy. Two years ago, I made the decision to rename Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland, ending an effort to memorialize a secessionist leader who fought to maintain slavery, but had no direct ties to Baltimore County. Our public spaces should not glorify historical policies of hatred and racism.

By his own words, it is clear that President Trump fails to understand that these memorials perpetuate hate, and his opposition only stokes the fires of hate.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (Courtesy Photo/baltimorecountymd.gov)

As the son of a man who bravely served our nation to defeat the scourge of Nazism, I have been sickened by Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to morally equate the actions of peaceful protesters with the domestic terrorism we saw in Charlottesville. While the President has tried to share blame among “all sides,” those of us attached to reality understand that there is really only one side here.

The actions we are seeing in Baltimore, in Annapolis, and in communities across our country, are not the end of the dialogue — but simply the next step on the ladder of healing. We must move beyond just removing monuments, and redouble our efforts to remove underlying causes of racism, including the failure to achieve equitable performance in our public schools. If all our children can succeed academically, we can overcome yet another barrier to success, and further diminish symbols of hate.

Maryland’s public schools were long ranked top in the country, but have fallen several spots in just a few short years. This drop has been accentuated by a widening achievement gap — the eighth worst in the nation — between our African American and white students, a vestige of historical underfunding for schools serving minorities.

Combating inequality is not just about paying lip service. In Baltimore County, we have been laser-focused on addressing this gap in educational outcomes. Our graduation rates have increased every year, now approaching 90 percent. And we are proud to have successfully eliminated the racial gap in graduation rates. But we have to do more to improve outcomes for all, and this needs to be a driving force in every jurisdiction across our state.

As County Executive, I have committed unprecedented levels of funding — two county dollars for every state dollar — into public school construction. We have invested in technology to put laptops into the hands of every student and teacher — ensuring access to these critical learning tools, not just the historically privileged.

Everything we do in our K-12 classrooms to expand opportunity and eliminate disparities must fit into a larger picture: expanding access for students in the next phase of their learning path. This month we initiated our Early College High School program at Woodlawn High, which empowers students to graduate not only with a high school diploma, but an Associate’s degree from the Community College of Baltimore County — tuition-free. As a state we must do more to eliminate the barriers to advanced learning. No child should be forced to give up on their dreams because they cannot afford it, and it is the responsibility of those in government to level the playing field of equality to support both this generation and those to come.

Meanwhile, Governor Hogan has reduced public school funding for historically underfunded schools, for English as a second language programs, even for robotics classes. He has initiated a voucher system that uses public school dollars to fund parochial schools, creating an inequitable parallel system of schools that can pick which students it chooses to educate. He resists revisiting broken funding formulas to assist our areas most in need. More than the symbolism of monuments, the Hogan administration is exacerbating the inequalities that remain in our schools.

As we reflect on the removal of a statue dedicated to a Supreme Court Justice uniquely tied to one of our country’s darkest moments, we must now take to heart the words of another— very different— Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, who stated that “until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.”

Removing the monuments that honored our nation’s dark past is absolutely the right step forward.

The time is long overdue for us to come together to root out the vestiges of historical racism and hate that exist within our public schools as well as in our public squares.

Kevin Kamenetz, is the Baltimore County Executive, the president of the Maryland Association of Counties, and a past president of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. He can be reached at Kevin@Baltimorecountymd.gov and on Twitter @kevinkamenetz.