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Maryland Show Middle Class Incomes are Flat


The good news on Maryland revenues is that there is no more bad news and some slight growth, leading to calls of “restrained optimism” and “caution” by top state officials.

But the sobering news underlining the on-target revenue projections for this year and next is that they are only growing at 3 to 4% because middle class incomes have been largely flat. The slower growth with a static economy is the new normal for a state that had been used to 5% overall growth.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 7.07.35 AM“These tepid levels of growth have become our new normal,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot, who chairs the Board of Revenue Estimates, a joint legislative-executive committee that sets the available funds for next year’s budget.

“This is a window into the economic realities facing Maryland families at the moment,” Franchot said. “In essence, non-wage income earners — generally associated with wealthier taxpayers — are doing better than our very modest prior expectations. But actual wage earners, predominantly Maryland’s middle class, are faring worse, with average wage growth standing at a disappointing rate of 2.4%, well below Maryland’s historical standards.”

That’s what the chart at the top shows. Over a 14-year period, income for people making over $250,000 (the blue line) has gone up and down, but mostly up, with several dips related to the stock market and federal tax policy.

Marylanders making less than $250,000 a year have seen little growth in income, especially in the last six years.

Less disposable income

“Workers are bringing home the same or less pay as their living costs are rising, leaving them with less disposable income to spend, and in our consumer-powered economy, that in turn means that far too many businesses – especially small, local businesses – are struggling to survive as consumers rein in discretionary spending,” Franchot said.

That’s why sales tax revenues were revised slightly downward.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 7.07.44 AMThese revised numbers will be the basis of Wednesday’s recommendations to the governor by the legislature’s Spending Affordability Committee.

“This is certainly welcome news,” said Hogan Budget Secretary David Brinkley. Last December, revenue estimates were revised downward by a total of $271 million, requiring mid-year budget cuts by Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Board of Public Works.

“We have to exercise caution,” Brinkley said. “We’re looking for the legislature to secure some mandate relief.” This means reducing mandatory spending driven by formulas and entitlements, something the Democrat-controlled legislature has been unwilling to do in school aid and other programs.

The chart below illustrates the relative weakness of Maryland’s recovery compared to the national recovery from the Great Recession.

By Len Lazarick

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman Exploring Run for Senate


Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, just a year into his new post, is exploring a run for U.S. Senate, at the urging of campaign advisors, he said.

Glassman, a Republican, authorized a poll by his campaign that shows him relatively popular in the Baltimore region and able to beat the other candidates in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. That includes Del. Kathy Szeliga who represents part of Harford County and formally announced her candidacy Tuesday.

“I enjoy what I’m doing,” Glassman said in an interview, “but it’s kind of unconventional year.”

Political advisors asked that he take a poll, and “I agreed to let them go ahead with it. We have not met to go over the poll yet.” But “the numbers were really good.” Glassman, 53, served nine years in the House of Delegates and almost seven years in the Senate. He easily won election as Harford County executive with 75% of the vote.

Glassman has been a sheep farmer, and his campaign literature and signs call him “Baaaa-rry.” He thinks a rural guy with blue collar roots and a farming background might have some appeal. “I just think I have a good story to tell.”

Poll results

Released exclusively to, the poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies was taken in late October, interviewing 302 likely Republican voters by telephone, both land lines and cell phones.

The poll found 41% of Republicans in the Baltimore region had a favorable view of Glassman, but over 70% of Republicans in the rest of the state don’t even recognize him. In Harford County, 83% of a very small sample view him favorably, and 96% approve of the job he’s doing as executive.

More than four out of five Republican voters don’t recognize the other candidates.

In an election match up with the other major GOP candidates for Senate, Glassman leads with 19%, Szeliga gets 11%, Richard Douglas, a former Capitol Hill staffer who ran for Senate in 2012, gets 5%, and attorney Chris Kefalas gets 2%.

With such a small sample, the margin of error is plus or minus 5.75%. The poll also asked whether these Republican voters “support or oppose the Common Core approach to public education in Maryland.” The poll found 69% opposed, with 55% strongly opposed, 19% supportive, and 12% with no response.

Confident of primary win

“I don’t think we have a problem winning the primary,” Glassman said. An advisor to Szeliga expressed confidence that she could beat Glassman in the primary.

“I think the citizens are looking out there for someone who can work with different parties,” said Glassman, who had many Democratic friends in the legislature.

But he recognizes that winning the Senate seat being given up by Democrat Barbara Mikulski would be tough for any Republican.

The release of selective numbers from an internal campaign poll is common, but the release of a complete poll, including demographic breakdowns, is unusual. Pollster Patrick Gonzales, with 30 years in the polling business, said he advised against it, but did so at the request of the Glassman campaign.

“He’s got a good base to win the Republican nomination,” said Gonzales. But the key question is “what does the general election environment look like?”

“It’s always tough for a Republican in Maryland,” the pollster said. “To have a Republican win, you’ve got to have disaffection with the Democrats,” as there was with Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown, who lost to Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Is there a sufficient disaffection with the Democratic Party” in Maryland? Gonzales asked.

By Len Lazarick

Maryland’s Chronic Structural Deficits to Recur in 2 Years


Democratic legislators proudly proclaimed on Monday they had cured Maryland’s structural deficits with a big surplus this year, but it turns out it is only a temporary respite from a chronic budget disease.

On Friday, the legislature’s top nonpartisan staffer told legislative leaders in a letter that structural deficits are forecast to recur again in two years, growing from $37 million in fiscal 2018 to $465 million in fiscal 2021.

“While it cannot be said that the structural deficit is no longer a concern, our most recent forecast suggests that it can be addressed without extraordinary measures through prudent budget management over the next few years,” said Warren Deschenaux, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services.

A structural deficit is the difference between estimated future revenues and the “baseline budget,” the estimated cost of maintaining current services under normal conditions These baseline budgets assume full funding of all the programs mandated by state law such as education aid, the largest single state-funded program, and Medicaid health insurance, as well as cost-of-living increases and the pension contributions for state employees. It also includes inflation in costs for utilities, gasoline, food and supplies.

The persistence of the deficit in the out years is what Gov. Larry Hogan’s spokesman referred to in justifying the governor’s refusal to release $68 million in education funding for this fiscal year, as the lawmakers demanded.

“As both Senate President Miller and Speaker Busch know, Maryland is still facing a nearly $1 billion cumulative deficit over the next five years,” Doug Mayer, Hogan’s deputy communication director, said last Monday.

Deschenaux said the deficits were forecast to be $34 million in fiscal 2018, $187 million in 2019, $317 million in 2020, and $465 million in 2021, adding up to $1.003 billion.

Deschenaux’s letter was released with a statement by the Senate Republican Caucus.

Sen. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, a member of the Budget Committee, observed: “DLS has confirmed the differences of approach between current and previous administrations. Like Maryland households, we must take a longer term view in budgeting. This means that any short term windfall should not be relied upon to continue.”

“It is clear that the problems that were created over the last years are not going to be remedied quickly,” Serafini said. “The caution exhibited by Governor Hogan exhibits prudence and common sense. The challenges of healthcare and Medicaid as well as rising debt cost and pension obligations still loom large. Clearly, the long term structural deficit is still a significant issue.”


By Len Lazarick

Rating the O’Malley Vegas Debate Performance


The five major Democratic candidates for president debated for two hours on CNN Tuesday night, the first time former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley got to share the national limelight with front-runner Hillary Clinton and her major challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

How did O’Malley do? Here are reactions by Len Lazarick, Len Foxwell, Barry Rascovar, Rick Vatz and Blaine Taylor. Looking for other opinions? James Hohmann at the Post has a good analysis and roundup of other views.

Outshined by Hillary and Bernie
Len Lazarick
Maryland Reporter

Tuesday night we got to see why Hillary Clinton leads the pack. She is excellent on the debate stage — poised, articulate, in her element, knowledgeable, competent, at least an even match with any of the Republicans we’ve now seen twice in similar settings.

Bernie Sanders showed why, to the surprise of most pundits he has become her chief challenger. He is laser focused on income inequality, the decline of the middle class, the outsized influence of the super-rich, the economic dominance of financial institutions and big corporations.

The economy has been stagnant for much of the U.S. population, and Sanders is channeling their seething dissatisfaction. He is so focused on what he considers the real issues that he could easily say “enough about her damn emails,” eliciting a real laugh from Clinton, not one of those fake Hillary laughs.

They both outshined O’Malley, partly because the questions from the CNN moderators, and then the candidates’ own interaction, favored Clinton and Sanders. You could hear O’Malley futilely trying to break in and get some attention.

He did well enough when he had the floor, although his opening statement had that highfalutin tone that comes across as heartfelt insincerity.

Better than the other two

He did not fare well in the first question which had him defending his zero tolerance policing strategy as mayor, reminding voters of the Baltimore riots in the spring and undermining one of his basic themes: I have governed for 14 years and governed well.

O’Malley certainly did better than the other two men on the stage: former Virginia senator Jim Webb, a stiff policy wonk who might make a good secretary of defense or maybe even a commander-in-chief if somebody else well was doing the political stuff; and former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, who comes across as a bit loopy.

O’Malley has solid stands on issues that should appeal to progressive Democrats, and he can articulate them well. He has a good liberal record of running a good liberal state — and nobody on the stage was worried about increasing taxes as he often did as governor, certainly not Bernie Sanders who has a lot of ways he’d like to raise taxes on Wall Street and the wealthy.

O’Malley just did not seem to make the case of how he would be more competent and thoughtful than Clinton, or more passionate about the economic problems of the country than Sanders. With that in mind, which of the early voting states can O’Malley win against those two?

And if Joe Biden got into the race, he would even lose his edge as the middle-class Irish Catholic lawyer.

No Breakthrough for O’Malley
Len Foxwell
Political Strategist

The winner of the debate is the one who came in with the most to lose, and that was Hillary Clinton.  She avoided memorable, game-changing mistakes, adroitly deflected direct hits on her perceived areas of weakness — such as her Senate vote to authorize the war in Iraq, the e-mail controversy and her oft-critiqued tendency to modify her positions for the sake of political expediency — and took opportunities to connect with the party’s progressive base on domestic policy issues such as handgun safety.

I suspect that her steady performance this evening will soothe the nerves of many of her restive supporters and donors.

Sanders: Authenticity and principle

Bernie Sanders came across as a man of authenticity and principle, and his systemic critique of the American political system – and, specifically, the linkage that he draws between the control of the process by wealthy special interests and the nation’s current economic inequality — will assuredly resonate with those who wish to register their dissatisfaction with politics as usual, are searching for an alternative to a Clinton nomination they regard as inevitable, or both.

It’s not hard to understand how he has generated a substantial and vocal following among those on the left flank of the Democratic Party.

That said, he did virtually nothing this evening to expand his political base; to the contrary, his spirited defense of democratic socialism and his call for a revolution, regardless of the substantive merits of his arguments, come across as jarringly radical for someone who aspires to be the nominee of one of the two major political parties.  His candidacy should continue to serve as a useful protest vehicle for disaffected constituencies within the Democratic coalition, but I don’t believe that he should be regarded as a credible contender for the Democratic nomination.

Martin O’Malley needed a breakthrough performance this evening to climb out of the low single digits and establish himself as a credible, ideologically mainstream alternative to Hillary Clinton.  In my mind, that didn’t occur this evening.

While he had a few impressive moments earlier in the evening —  I believe he registered an articulate defense of his criminal justice policies in Baltimore City, and fared well in a three-way exchange on gun control legislation with Clinton and Sanders — he appeared to recede into the background as the evening wore on.  Moreover, he continues to suffer, I believe, from a soaring and excessively rehearsed rhetorical style at moments when a less formal, more conversational style would be more appropriate.  He performed credibly on an evening when that simply wasn’t enough.

Big Dog Clinton, angry orator Sanders, and O’Malley best of the rest
Barry Rascovar

Throughout the evening, the Big Dog in the room was Hillary Clinton. She started strong and finished strongest, the only one who gave nuanced, pragmatic answers on how to solve vexing, seemingly intractable problems. She led the charge in denouncing Republicans and the National Rifle Association and made it clear she will fight the hardest for women’s rights.

Bernie Sanders wins the blue ribbon for most emotionally compelling rhetoric, though it frequently veered into unreality. He must have denounced rapacious billionaires a dozen times. He admitted he’s leading a revolution, not presenting proposals that are achievable. If you want to elect an angry orator, Bernie’s your man.

As for Martin O’Malley, he was clearly the Best of the Rest. His poll ratings should rise, perhaps even edging into double digits. He achieved his goal after a shaky start with his voice quavering. His defense of his zero-tolerance police policy as Baltimore mayor wasn’t persuasive.

And he made the biggest gaffe of the evening, mistakenly saying that Bashir Assad (rather than Vladimir Putin) had invaded Syria — undermining his credibility on foreign policy. Still, our man Martin performed well enough to spread the word that he could be an up-and-coming future star of the party. It would take a major miracle for him to become a real contender this year, but as the late Judge Edgar Silver would remind him, “The best is yet to come.”

Love fest for Hillary did not shake up the race

Richard E. Vatz
Towson University

The first Democratic debate had the potential to shake up the apparent order-by-polls of candidates Hillary Clinton first, followed by Bernie Sanders and then by the most significant non-participant, Vice President Joe Biden.  The other participants, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee all brought a certain unpredictability enhanced by desperation, due to their very low polling numbers.

Mrs. Clinton, whose last televised debate was in 2008, has reversed positions on a variety of issues, including current opposition to the Bush-era Iraq war, opposition to the Pacific Rim Trade deal, and support of gay marriage and others. On the less controversial change on gay marriage, Ms. Clinton was lovingly teased on Saturday Night Live.  The first Democratic debate for the presidential nomination of 2016 was not much rougher on her.

In the debate, there was only one incongruous line in the opening statements: O’Malley’s “We need new leadership.” Was this a shot at President Obama after O’Malley complimented his leadership?

Debate Moderator Anderson Cooper asked tough questions throughout, although his follow-ups were not quite as tough.  He also never questioned the representation that the war on Iraq was based on Bush administration lies, a premise that is highly debatable, to say the least.

Cooper asks each about his/her weaknesses regarding electability: Clinton’s flip-flopping, Sanders’ socialism, O’Malley’s zero-tolerance policies, Chaffee’s wild political changes, and Webb’s prior right-wing statements regarding affirmative action.  None directly answered the question, but all made the argument that their policies yielded a better status quo and will yield a better situation than what we have now. Cooper was less aggressive on questioning the precepts of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  Only Webb asserted the notion that “All Lives Matter” — briefly.

The disproportional amount of time accorded to candidates Clinton and Sanders was indefensible. Clinton brilliantly focused on background checks as the only gun control issue and made Sanders look weak. O’Malley took an atypical example to argue for gun control and similarly made Sanders look weak on the issue. (Story continues below graph)
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Asked about her position on Russia as Secretary of State, Clinton claimed we have to stand up to Russia but then compliments President Obama for negotiating with Russia.  No one challenges her inconsistency, an area of possible differentiating of the candidates.

No one on stage but Cooper questioned frontrunner Clinton on her e-mails, her flip-flops or her devastating failures and lack of successes in foreign policy, three material issues as to whether she is qualified to be president.  Sanders gratuitously exonerated her by saying her use of a private server was not a legitimate issue.  Only Chafee meekly asserted it was an important issue.  O’Malley agreed it was the wrong issue to discuss.  Toward the end, O’Malley took on Clinton on one of the weeds: her inconsistency on the Glass-Steagall Act, deregulating banks.

Sanders attributed his seeking conscientious objector status as being linked to the indefensible exigencies of the Vietnam deal.  No one criticized him.  When articulating government hyper-expenditures, no one, including Cooper, asked basic questions, such as who would pay for them.  Finally, at the end of the debate, Webb generally pointed out that someone would have to pay for all of Sanders’ recommendations.

For most irresponsible liberal policy propositions — Sanders’ free tuition at all public colleges and hyper-raises in the minimum wage, for example — there was no stated disagreement whatsoever.

To wrest Clinton’s position from the top of Democrats, more confrontation was necessary, but no one on stage was seriously interested in doing so.

In tonight’s debate the critical questions were how did the candidates do substantively with especially the Democratic audience, and how did their performance affect the Democratic constituency.  The mostly love-fest that ensued does not generally allow upending a leading candidate.  The lack of any significant direct challenges to Hillary Clinton, despite the strong performance by O’Malley, should pave the way for her nomination, unless Joe Biden should unexpectedly enter the race.

In that case, the next debate will be seen as the all-important debate.  If Biden does not enter the race, the nomination will be Hillary’s.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

JFK without the accent
Blaine Taylor
Author and former Democratic candidate for Senate, Congress

He physically looked the most like a President, namely JFK, and also sounded like him, minus the Massachusetts accent. His good self-introduction presented well his 14 years of executive experience of getting things done, and was also Reaganesque in citing that wages haven’t improved in the last 12 years, ala “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” in 1980. Attacked on his past positions, he defended them all very well and to the point, backing down on none of them.

He accurately cited all the landmark legislation that he backed and signed into law in Maryland, was impassioned, forceful, and used gestures effectively. His personal debate with Sen. Sanders was both unexpected and forceful, and he also stood toe to toe with frontrunner Clinton, thus avoiding being minimized.

His wishes for the future were stated clearly and without any hedging. Again—ala JFK’s 1962 pledge to put a man on the moon—he several times asserted his goal of a 100% clean electric grid by 2050, thus establishing a goal beyond today’s immediate concerns.

His closing statement was both classy and modest, with his breakout line being, “We need to speak to the goodness in our country,” ala RFK in 1968. This was his moment, and he rose to it.

Marylanders give Obama, Clinton thumbs up, O’Malley and Congress Thumbs Down


President Obama’s job approval ratings among Marylanders have remained consistent during his last two years in office, a new Goucher Poll finds. Fifty-three percent (53%) of Maryland residents approve of the job he is doing, while 38% disapprove — nearly identical to the results found in the September 2014 Goucher Poll.

Marylanders continue to express their disapproval with Congress; 83% disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job. The disdain for Congress is fairly uniform regardless of party, gender, race or age.

UPDATE 10/6, 8:15 a.m.: If the Democratic primary were held today, 43% of Maryland Democrats say they would vote for Hillary Clinton, 23% for Joe Biden, and 17% for Bernie Sanders. Mirroring nationwide polling, 2% of Maryland Democratic voters would support former Governor Martin O’Malley’s bid for the Democratic nomination.

When asked for the most important issue in determining their vote, 33 percent say economy, budget, or tax issues; 13 percent say international affairs or foreign policy; seven percent say women’s issues; and six percent say education.

“The gains Bernie Sanders made with Democratic voters in New Hampshire and Iowa are not reflected in Maryland. Hillary Clinton remains the clear front-runner, even with the undeclared Joe Biden in the mix,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. “Although Martin O’Malley was a popular two-term governor among Democrats in the state, his campaign’s difficulties in gaining traction nationwide are reflected in Maryland.”

Views on undocumented immigrants

Residents were asked about their general views toward undocumented immigrants working in the United States:

62%: Undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in their jobs and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.
13%: Undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as temporary guest workers, but not to apply for U.S. citizenship.
20%: Undocumented immigrants should be required to leave their jobs and leave the United States.

Residents were also asked whether they thought the number of undocumented immigrants coming to the United States in the past decade has increased, decreased, or stayed the same.

Seventy-three percent of Marylanders think it has increased, 14 percent think it has stayed about the same, and 8 percent think it has decreased.

According to research from the Pew Research Center based on Census population estimates, the number of undocumented immigrants coming to the U.S. has stayed about the same since 2005.

By Len Lazarick

Edwards Files for Senate, Far Behind Van Hollen in Funds


Although Maryland will not elect its next senator until November 2016, the party primaries are only 230 days away on April 26.

Since incumbent Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced her retirement plans in March, the primary is shaping up to be a clash between two of the state’s best-known politicians, though four lesser-knowns have filed.

On Tuesday, Rep. Donna Edwards, who represents Maryland’s 4th District, took another important step in her campaign, filing her certificate of candidacy, and officially placing her name on the ballot as a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who represents Maryland’s 8th District, was the first to announce his candidacy, just days after Mikulski made her retirement plans public.

Both candidates filed their statements of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission in March, but Edwards is the first to file her certificate of candidacy with the state of Maryland, which is not required until February.

Van Hollen has fundraising advantage

While both candidates have received numerous endorsements, ranging from politicians and groups on the local level to organizations and politicians on the federal level, the gap in fundraising between Van Hollen and Edwards is wide so far.

In their first full quarter of fundraising, a period spanning the beginning of April to the end of June, Van Hollen outraised Edwards by a ratio of more than 4-to-1, according to a CNS analysis of the candidates’ fundraising reports filed with the FEC.

By the end of June, Van Hollen’s campaign has already raised more than $4.2 million, while Edwards’ campaign has raised just shy of $1 million.


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Both campaigns have spent almost $500,000 on items such as renting office space, advertising, and consulting, leaving Van Hollen with a nearly 9-to-1 advantage in cash on hand over Edwards.

In fact, in the Edwards campaign’s latest release, campaign manager Garrick Delzell acknowledges facing a “steep fundraising disadvantage,” saying that without the help of supporters, Edwards and her campaign “risk falling further and further behind.”

Major differences on in-state, out-of-state funding

One of the major differences in fundraising between the two campaigns stems from where the candidates are getting their money.

According to FEC records, nearly 70 percent of Van Hollen’s funds have come from Maryland contributions, while only 19 percent of Edwards’ donations have come from in-state donors.

Almost $1.7 million of Van Hollen’s current campaign funds came from the Van Hollen for Congress Committee, signaling that Van Hollen had a substantial fundraising head start over Edwards. Only $9,000 of Edwards’ $918,000 came from her House campaign fund.

The next reporting period closes Sept. 30. Although it is early in the race, Edwards has a large financial gap to close.

Four other lesser-known Democrats have already filed the paperwork for the seat along with the $290 filing fee. They include perennial candidates Ralph Jaffe of Baltimore County and Lih Young of Montgomery County; Ed Tinus of Worcester County; and Violet Staley of Prince George’s County.

Richard Douglas of Prince George’s County, who ran in 2012, and Anthony Seda of Harford County have filed on the Republican side.

By Dylan Reffe

2012 Stats Show Maryland Taxpayer Loss and Kent County Gain


Meg Tully at MarylandPerorter writes, “Recently released data from the IRS shows that about 5,500 more taxpayers left Maryland in 2012 than moved to the state.

“Long-cited by tax critics as annual data that show the migration of taxpayers to lower-taxed states, some experts caution that not too much should be read into year-to-year changes.”

Continue reading here.

Maryland Teachers Say Testing Hurts Learning


Standardized testing is chipping away at “so many layers” of a public school classroom these days, a panel of educators said during a town hall meeting — taking away from teacher autonomy to curriculum and even technology hubs placed in schools to help students learn and connect to a high-tech world.

Wednesday’s panel discussion was sponsored by the Maryland State Education Association, the union representing over 70,000 educators, and moderated by radio host Marc Steiner. The 90-minute forum drew about 100 participants that included two state delegates, teachers, administrators and parents to an auditorium at Roland Park Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore.

The discussion will be broadcast Friday morning at 10 a.m. on The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA-FM.

Changes in teaching

During a panel discussion, three educators spoke frankly about how standardized testing in Maryland — the PARCC test of Common Core standards — has contributed to radical changes in their approach to teaching. Much of their comments are part of a growing chorus of criticism and national debate over standardized testing.

At a town hall meeting on standardized testing, Del. Eric Ebersole speaks to the audience.

At a town hall meeting on standardized testing, Del. Eric Ebersole speaks to the audience.

PARCC — which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers– was given for the first time to Maryland’s elementary and high school students during the 2014-15 academic year.

It measured reading and mathematics and replaced existing standardized tests, the Maryland School Assessments for grades 3 through 8, and the High School Assessment tests for Algebra I and English 10.

“I think children are being left behind — kids are not being taught the basics,” said Cheryl Colbert, a teacher at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore.

Erika Strauss Chavarria, a Spanish teacher at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia added: “It’s taken the enjoyment and fun out of learning . It’s destroyed that. As educators, it’s taken the fun out of teaching. We should be deciding how to assess our students.”

The forum was presented as the MSEA launched $500,000 advertising campaign with public awareness events like the town hall to highlight what it has deemed the negative impacts testing has had on Maryland students. The campaign is called “Less Testing, More Learning.”

A second town hall is scheduled for Nov. 4 in Montgomery County.

Lost time

During a question and answer period during the town hall meeting, a common theme discussed by parents and educators was how students and teachers experienced lost time in the classrooms during test preparation. One speaker even lamented that the number of field trips have scaled back because there is not enough time to schedule them.

“We need to get away from the idea that the only way we’ll know how we’re doing is by giving a test,” said Maryland state Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat who represents District 12 and for decades was a math teacher in Howard County.

Ebersole was appointed to a state commission that has been charged with studying over-testing of students in Maryland schools, as was Del. Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore County. Hettleman said the state commission is still being formed and is not likely to meet for the first time until 2016.

Ebersole told the group,“We are working in the State House,” to scale back the emphasis on standardized testing as a means to grade and assess success for students, teachers, schools and school districts.

Classroom autonomy whittled away

Many speakers and educators admitted that testing is important and necessary. But today’s emphasis on Common Core standards, developed as a result of the federal No Child Left Behind law, has whittled away at curriculum and classroom autonomy.

Another complaint discussed at the town hall meeting was technology. As a majority of the PARCC tests are taken on computers, educators told of how entire computer labs in schools — designed to help students learn, write papers, print papers, use email and research academic pursuits — are taken over during testing time.

“When I heard it was computer based, I asked what about those students who don’t have technology at home?” asked Matthew Vaughn-Smith, a reading specialist at Bollman Bridge Elementary School in Jessup, a member of the town hall panel.

One result of that, Vaughn-Smith said, was some students struggling to use a keyboard and a mouse during test taking.

Another issue was crashing of computers during testing, which caused stress for students, particularly those who have learning struggles said Colbert from Digital Harbor High School.

“Some students, they just shut down,” she said.

Parents concerned

Parents were equally concerned. During a Q&A session, many spoke of the impact of testing on their children’s academic path. Morna McDermott, who has two children in Baltimore County schools, has “opted out” of testing for her 3rd and 5th graders.

“My children have never taken the MSAs (Maryland School Assessment test) or PARCC and somehow they have not spontaneously combusted,” she said. “You can refuse the test. It’s a lousy measure of who they are.”

Joi Kerr Walker, who said she just left a position as a Baltimore City Schools teacher in part because of the testing issue, told the town hall of how testing prep begins in Pre-Kindergarten.

“We are stressing these babies out,” she said. “We are going to make them hate coming to school.”

Towson University literacy teacher Bess Altwerger, who is also a member of the Howard County School Board, said she came to the town hall to express her personal viewpoint on standardized testing and student test preparedness. She called it a huge waste of money.

“If we took the hundreds of millions of dollars spent now on testing and created schools with small classrooms and more resources…we could address issues” of poverty and academic inequities, she said. “We are wasting money on these tests and it’s pointless.”

By Melody Simmons


Mandel: The Accidental Governor’s Achievements Outlived Scandal by Len Lazarick


Former Gov. Marvin Mandel died Sunday, ending a remarkable life that made him one of the most influential Maryland governors of the past century and one of the most colorful, with personal drama providing flourishes to his large public accomplishments.

If you live long enough in politics, all may not be forgiven, but most is forgotten, and if you’re lucky, only the good stuff is remembered, wrote in May.

That’s certainly true of Mandel, who turned 95 in April and was feted at a birthday celebration that was an old-timers reunion for a man who left office 36 years ago. It’s nice to be able to hear your eulogies before you pass away.

A machine pol, Jewish kid from East Baltimore

A product of Baltimore Democratic machine politics, Mandel stayed relatively conservative as the Democratic Party has moved to the left.

He quietly supported both Hogan and former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich.

Mandel became Maryland’s chief executive when the last GOP governor before Ehrlich, Gov. Spiro “Ted” Agnew, was elected vice president with President Richard Nixon. Back then, the legislature chose the speaker of the House of Delegates, Mandel, since there was no lieutenant governor.

“I’ll Never Forget It” is what Mandel called his memoir published in 2010 when he turned 90 – a title that could have been applied to a thousand autobiographies. It might better have been called “The Accidental Governor.”

Based on a series of interviews conducted by Christopher Summers of the Maryland Public Policy Institute over the years, the book is “written” in the colloquial style of a plain-spoken man, a Jewish kid from East Baltimore. If you take him at his word in the book, Mandel never had ambitions to be a member of the legislature, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, speaker of the House of Delegates (accidentally again), and then the first Jewish governor of Maryland when the first Greek governor got to be vice-president.

10 years as governor, minus 19 months

Mandel had almost 10 years as governor, though 19 months of that was spent in a federal prison camp in Florida, on a mail fraud conviction that was later overturned on appeal.

Mandel’s legal problems left Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III as acting governor. Before that there was a marital drama that had him living on the governor’s yacht while his first wife refused to leave Government House. She had found out about the affair with the woman who would be become his second first lady.

Mandel has been called “the architect of modern Maryland.” He took hundreds of disparate state agencies, and put them together under a modern cabinet system. Maryland became the first state to have a transportation department overseeing roads, mass transit, port and airports that he purchased for the state to run.

Over several years, Mandel created the current structure of the Maryland judiciary, including the district courts and judicial nominating commissions to emphasize professional qualifications over political patronage.

He instituted state funding for school construction as Maryland’s suburbs grew.

Mandel is also remembered as one of the greatest friends of the black community, and appointed many of the first African American judges to serve in Prince George’s and other counties.

U.S. House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer was a young state senator who voted against Mandel’s election but later become Senate president with his help. He called Mandel, “the best governor I’ve served with for almost half a century,” praising “the generosity of his spirit.”

Being governor harder today

Serving as governor “is far more difficult today than it was 20 years ago,” Mandel told in an interview five years ago. “I think the legislature and the governor have done a pretty good job at keeping the state functioning, But you can’t keep raising taxes. You just can’t keep doing it.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 12.57.56 PM“We’ve reached a point where we have to reduce the size of government,” Mandel said. “I just think government is getting too big. I don’t think you should spend money you don’t have.”

When he entered the legislature in 1952, Mandel said, the budget was $250 million and today it is $32 billion. “Nobody knew what a billion dollars was,” he said.

Mandel recalled that he didn’t raise “general” taxes during his tenure, but according to historian George Callcott, the budget under Mandel rose 180% – going up double-digits all but one year.

A analysis five years ago found that Mandel had some of the biggest spending increases of the last six governors.

At the May birthday bash, M.C. Tim Maloney, an influential attorney, said the famous epitaph for renowned English architect Christopher Wren found in the crypt of London’s St. Paul Cathedral could also apply to Mandel’s tenure as governor.

“If you seek his monument, just look around you.”

Still a visible presence at the State House

Even at the State House, just look around you. Mandel is still a visible presence on all three floors.

Besides his portraits in the Governor’s Reception Room (right) and in the House of Delegates chamber where he served as speaker (at top of page), in the large press room known as the Pit, there is heavy 3 foot by 5 foot black-and-white poster from his days as governor that was preserved by reporters when the State House was renovated in 2008.

It was re-hung in January 2009 with a brief ceremony attended by Mandel who signed the battered poster next to some small graffiti. Just his name, the date and a brief thank you. It still hangs there today.

Being governor today is a lot more difficult than it was when he had the job in the 1970s, as Marvin Mandel tells it.

But the government, at both federal and state levels, has also grown too large and taxes are too high. Those were some of the observations Mandel offered in a 90-minute interview two days after his 90th birthday last month, in the Annapolis law office where he said he still works five days a week.