From schools to work

December 24, 2007

In a report outlining where Maryland can make the smartest investments to prepare for the influx of people associated with the military base realignment and closure (BRAC) process, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and a government-wide committee sensibly focused on education, along with transportation. Getting people around the state more easily - particularly on improved public transportation - is essential. And preparing more students for BRAC-related jobs is also critical. At the least, it will require honoring existing commitments for education spending.

The committee - composed of representatives from 11 state agencies - estimates that the base realignment will relocate about 25,000 households and generate as many as 60,000 jobs in Maryland by 2011. Many of the jobs will require knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM subjects to which educators around the state are rightly trying to expose more students.

State education officials had committed $3.8 million over five years to create and expand career and technology courses; for example, some 58 high schools have pre-engineering programs, and one high school in each of seven districts is implementing a biomedical science curriculum. Each of the jurisdictions where most of the anticipated growth from BRAC is expected - including Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Frederick and Harford counties - has at least one of these programs.

Similarly, in the last two years, the state has spent $3.6 million to help school districts assess and strengthen instruction in math, science, technology and engineering. More than 60 elementary, middle and high schools have started or expanded STEM programs (with many more coming on board). Some districts have also used the money to create magnet schools or to encourage charter schools with an added focus on those subjects.

The state has promised to spend about $800 million in the 2008 fiscal year mainly to build educational facilities and repair existing ones - and that obligation should be fulfilled. But there is also a need for continued investment in specialized programs. As many school districts cope with reductions in state aid as part of the deficit-reduction plan, Mr. Brown, Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly should remember that with so many BRAC opportunities looming, investing in education can only be a plus.

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