State Superintendent Choudhury Talks Blueprint and Quadrupling School Funding

State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury recently joined EduRecoveryHub’s podcast to talk COVID recovery and school funding.

On the opening episode of the second season of EduRecoveryHub’s podcast, Route K-12 Exploring Education Recovery, State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury joined Collaborative for Student Success Director Jim Cowen to discuss the toll COVID-19 disruptions had on students in Maryland and how the state is quadrupling down on federal funding.

The Route K-12 Exploring Education Recovery podcast travels the country “on a kind of road trip to talk about the ways federal recovery dollars are being used in states to reshape education” and best practices in doing so.

The podcast episode discussed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and how it “provides a big boost for the state’s recovery efforts by layering an additional $4 billion on top of already historic amounts of federal school funding.” As well as Superintendent Choudhury’s involvement with the Coalition to Advance Future Student Success, a national group of groups of education leaders that pay close attention to how federal recovery dollars are being spent.

Choudhury opened the conversation summarizing Maryland’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and the work to be done in its wake, especially around pandemic learning loss:. He also nodded to ongoing enrollment disruptions, noting that COVID brought “losses and gains and social, emotional tolls, and even losses not just academically, but just even enrollment disruption and people leaving the system.”

The Superintendent said:

However, what is not normal is the level of loss and achievement and social-emotional health and toll that has the pandemic has had on our students. And of course that has been felt even disproportionately with our historically underserved students.

A large portion of the conversation was also spent focussing on school funding, including historic investments via the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and one-time federal COVID relief aid targeted at education. He said:

… We learned from the pandemic this moment, one time infusion of ESSER dollars—plus what we have in our arsenal is this historic Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Education Reform law and a State Department of Education, who is willing to think outside the box and disrupt lines to figure it out for kids—we have to seize that moment. And so, I think that’s where our energy is right now, while also returning to normalcy and dealing with what I call the pandemic lull of just students having mental health and other challenges, including our staff, as we start this school year.

He also rebutted criticism that local jurisdictions are not spending federal funds quickly enough.

So, these headlines about districts not spending fast enough or, you know, they have this many dollars left in the tank.

We have to remember there’s three tranches of money at rapid paces that drop to school systems. And each tranche has different deadlines, right? But each tranche came at different moments and what spending looks like in terms of draw downs and procurement and calculation, all those things matter as well. So, you might like, “oh my gosh, they have not drawn down. The balance still says this,” but the school systems have already obligated it, it just hasn’t hit yet, right? So, there’re just nuance differences between spending and obligated, etc.

But the thing that I will tell you is our school systems are on track to spending dollars.

Choudhury also noted the impactful moment Maryland finds itself in, with federal funds combining with increased state and local funding via the Blueprint:

We are also in the backdrop of a very historic moment in Maryland because we are implementing a law that essentially touches every aspect of our educational system. There is no other law you can point to in the last decades that looks like it.

And so, they also have to submit their plans to implement that law, which is infusing permanent per pupil increases, permanent weight increases. So, unlike other states, our state is quadrupling down on education funding. It is like four-plus billion dollars over the next 10 years, bringing teacher pay up, redefining college and career readiness, requiring high dosage tutoring in the early grades, upgrading how reading is taught, etc.

Also of interest was a discussion on how the state is supporting local government in the hiring and retention of qualified teachers:

So one of the things that every district got grant dollars for is to launch their own cohort of grow your own future teachers and that cohort is far more diverse than what teacher ed is producing. And so, they’re taking TA’s teaching assistants, they’re taking high school students, they’re taking career changes and they’re putting them into a cohort model. They’re subsidizing their debt. They’re making sure they stay on track to their classes. They’re helping them navigate through the university and they’re guaranteeing them come back and teach here in this high need school for three, four years, and we will wipe out your debt if you commit to that. I’m very excited to see the fruit bearing on that because, long term, that’s going to be our strategy for diversifying the profession here.

Additionally, Choudhury reiterated several times the need to “seize this moment” and “design and redesign like there’s no tomorrow,” because returning to the past “normal” is no longer good enough and we must strive for Maryland’s students and families.

The podcast episode and transcript are available online.