By Sen. Cory McCray
As a father of four young children, one of my top three priorities as a legislator is strengthening the quality of education in our State. During my time in the legislature, I have traveled to many public schools and witnessed firsthand the challenges that our teachers and administrators face, especially with respect to educating students who have unique circumstances. Some schools serve a population that includes large numbers of students who live in poverty. Some educate high populations of first-generation immigrant students who need specialized attention. Others are seeing an increased need for mental health services because their students are returning to an environment filled with drugs, crime, and lack of opportunity when they leave school for the day. In fact, many schools throughout our state are serving a student population that is confronting a combination of all of these issues.
If unaddressed, we know that circumstances like these make it next to impossible for young people to succeed and compete against their better-resourced peers. And without quality teachers, we know that our students don’t stand a chance. It is for these reasons that the Maryland General Assembly acted this session to implement solutions that will make our schools and students stronger. After years of intense study, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (The Kirwan Commission) presented the General Assembly with a series of recommendations addressing matters ranging from full day pre-kindergarten for low-income students to strengthening our special education services and increasing salaries for teachers.
Among the $255 million that we appropriated to enhance education in the State of Maryland, we set aside $75 million specifically to support salary increases for teachers. Underlying this salary increase was a belief that we must do more to emphasize the value of teaching as a profession. In addition to their essential role as educators, teachers in today’s schools are responsible for providing targeted attention to students who have special needs and circumstances. Not only do they find creative ways to engage with students on educational material, teachers today are tasked with playing an even greater role as mentors and quasi-counselors. It simply has never been more appropriate to recognize the value that teachers bring to our communities.
As I have spoken with school leaders like Principal Samuels at Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School, Principal Slayton at Brehms Lane Public Charter School, and Principal Debi at Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle, I have noticed a trend when each of them talk about their most successful initiatives: they all are implemented in the classroom by a great team of teachers. These outstanding individuals are helping to educate the next generation of professionals—lawyers, doctors, and engineers—and it is time that we regard teaching in the same manner that we regard each of those professions.
The “Teacher Salary Incentive Grant” will provide an opportunity for us to raise standards in the City of Baltimore and across the State of Maryland. It will also allow us to retain high quality teachers who might otherwise pursue different career options. The grant focuses on teachers who have five or less years of experience and will establish a career path that will keep excellent teachers in the classroom where they can continue to impact the lives of students.
I am thankful for my forty-four colleagues in the Maryland State Senate and one hundred fourteen colleagues in the Maryland House of Delegates who agreed to a bipartisan solution that will address the challenges in Maryland’s educational system. As a State, we have always prided ourselves on the superior level of our public educational offerings. But we cannot be complacent nor can we accept a premise that addressing systemic concerns in education is an “every jurisdiction for itself” problem. The path to address Maryland’s educational challenges will not be done by just Ellicott City or Baltimore City, Reisterstown or Hagerstown – it will be forged collectively as one State of Maryland. That path starts with valuing teaching as a profession.
Cory McCray is a member of the Maryland State Senate, representing the 45th District, which encompasses Northeast and East Baltimore City.
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