1. Educational Priority
A strong educational system is the linchpin to improving the economy, restoring home values, and breaking once and for all, the school-to-prison-pipeline.
Currently, it costs about $13,000 to educate a child, and about $16,000 to incarcerate…….it is clear where our investment should be.
ISSUE: In recent years, our current legislators in 23B failed to fight for Prince George’s County’s “fair share” of state aid. We lost approx $100M over several years because of the failure to act and action needs to take place NOW as the State seeks to implement the findings of the Kirwan Commission Report also known as the “Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education” to determine state aid for education.
SITUATION: State funding is currently allocated using an “inverse wealth” formula. Simply stated, the state takes the “net income” of all residents and determines the “relative wealth” of each county. Wealthier counties get more, poorer counties get less. In 2007 the federal tax filing deadline changed from Aug 1st to Oct 15th. Unfortunately, the state was slow to change the date by which they do their wealth assessment. Since wealthier folks and business tend to file late, a large portion of income was not accounted for. Although this was remedied a few years ago, it resulted in Prince George’s County losing approx $13M per year for several years. How our school district gets funding is critical, and any “straight line” funding formula based on the number of students (per pupil allocation) will NOT meet the needs of our school district.
ACTION: Prince George’s County cannot be compared to Montgomery County and other surrounding jurisdictions. A true “apples to apples” comparison can only be made with other “urban” school districts. These include: Baltimore City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte Mecklenburg to name a few. Why “urban” school districts? Because urban districts have a higher number of students on “free and reduced meals”, students with special education needs, and english language learners…….in short, urban school districts have a higher population of “At-Risk” students. This truth must be factored into funding formulas and as your State Delegate must fight for this!
2. Prince George’s County School System 2nd from the Bottom?
Let’s clear up this fallacy once and for all. This has been the standard “tag line” for all politicians for a long time now and someone needs to speak the truth.
TRUTH: Over the years 2000-2012 the following occurred in Prince George’s County:
- White population has decreased 33.8%
- Black population has increased 10.6%
- Hispanic population has increased 142.7%
This change in demographics continues to impact the “At-Risk” population of our school district. Currently, PGCPS has the largest percentage of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students, 3rd larger population of students on “Free and Reduced-price Meals”, and the 6th largest population of Special Education Students.
All tolled, Prince George’s has the 3rd largest population of “At-Risk” students. That being said, NOW lets see why we are “at the bottom”……..
- Howard County (Ranked #2 in the state) has the 2nd lowest number of At-Risk students but receives the 5th largest amount of per-pupil funding
- Montgomery County (Ranked #10 in the state) is ranked 12th in the number of At-Risk students, but receives the 4th largest amount of per-pupil funding, and
- Prince George’s County (Ranked #23 in the state) is ranked 3rd in the number of At-Risk students, but receives the 7th largest amount of per pupil funding
SUMMARY: To really close the achievement gap, we must not only get what is “equitable” from the state, but we out also work diligently to increase our “business tax base” to add the supplemental funding that is needed for our students, while minimizing the burden we face as individual tax payers.
SOURCE: Overview of Local Maryland Governments 2014
3. Legalizing Marijuana?
I am against legalizing marijuana and refuse to engage in any meaningful discussions until data and statistics are available from the 8 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized it. Specifically, I would want to see data on:
- Comparison of student achievement before and after the legalization in those respective school systems, to include truancy, drop-out rates and violence,
- Comparison of traffic infractions and accidents, both pre and post legalization, and
- Laws that must be put in place for specific individuals that restrict the use of marijuana for public safety and national security.
We must consider the impacts of marijuana on our medical professionals (doctors, dentist, etc) and how usage must be restricted for specific occupations. Those who operate heavy machinery and well as those whose job is to protect local and national security. We must stop sacrificing “Long-Term-Pain” for “Short-Term-Gain”.
Also, there must be an equivalent “field sobriety test” for marijuana impairment analogous to the of excessive alcohol use, and some metric which determines when an individual in impaired. And to protect civil liberties, this test must be non-intrusive. Much more work needs to be done to fully assess the potential impacts to our community!
4. What would be one of you first priorities if elected?
Boosting the economy in Prince George’s County. Our county was hit harder than anywhere else in the region when home values declined. You must understand that our county formulates its budget based on “projected” housing tax income. When the market tanked, County income from tax assessment fell, but the county’s financial obligations did not. In other words, we still had to pay the bills even though income decreased. this of course creates pressure of swallowing additional taxes to make up for the shortfall. The answer to this dilemma has not changed in many years, that is to coax businesses, both private and federal, to set up shop here in the county. We must have mechanisms in place that will encourage businesses to select Prince George’s over competing counties in the state. This would be one of my top priorities!.
5. What about our Senior Citizens?
Our Senior Citizens continue to be one of the most impacted populations in the county. I have been to ALL of the Senior Facilities in our district and each person I have spoken to simply wants to enjoy a great quality of life. This includes a safe environment, easy access to healthcare, and rent stabilization. They have paid their dues and deserve our support and protection. I look forward to fighting for our Seniors!
6. When money is tight, school funding is always impacted? What can you do to protect school funding if we are not getting the business growth we need.
By facilitating “out of the box” thinking on alternative revenue streams. While a member of the Board of Education, and facing back-to-back years of decreased funding, I floated the idea of generating revenue by allowing advertisements on school buses. My thoughts were that advertisements are in every metro bus, every subway station, and every train. By allowing this, millions of dollars in “alternative revenue” could be raised. Unfortunately, because of the current laws, our school system can only derive its funding from federal, state, and county sources.
Here is the potential: The House staff analysis says in Colorado, one of the states that allow exterior advertising, only 10 districts have chosen to put commercial messages on their buses. It’s estimated they raise $5,000 to $10,000 per bus annually. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/12/23/florida-lawmakers-considering-allowing-school-bus-advertisements/
PGCPS has a school bus fleet of 1,250 buses. Based on the conservative number above this equates to $6,250,000. Yes, there would have to be restrictions on the advertising for alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, prescription drugs, political ads, and material that’s inappropriate, offensive or insensitive to children or the community, but a little thinking “outside of the box” could go a long way.
I proposed this in 2007 as a means to mitigate school funding reductions caused by the lack of action on the part of our legislators in District 23B to ensure our county got its “fair share”. I will push for our school system to have the flexibility to generate additional sources of revenue.
7. What changes, if any, would you make to Maryland’s tax structure?
This is a very high-priority item and very complex. We must implement tax reform that concurrently positions the state to be competitive for business growth, achieves long-term revenue growth, AND minimizing the need to increase taxes on residents. This requires a fresh look at all elements of state and local government and restructuring the process for allocating revenue.
8. What should the state’s transportation priorities be?
Transportation is critical to sustaining our economic growth. Our priority should be the expansion of the Purple Line in Prince George’s County and the Red Line in Baltimore. Affordable public transportation will improve accessibility and ease traffic congestion.
9. What is the most pressing environmental issue in Maryland?
- Safe water and clean air are the most pressing issues. I will work to accelerate Bay restoration and seek innovative ways to harvest energy and reducing Maryland’s carbon footprint.
***These are just a few of my priorities, but most importantly, I seek to work for YOU and I need YOUR VOICE in developing our legislative agenda! We can no longer vote for candidates who fail to understand the needs of our diverse community. Make your vote count and vote RON WATSON for STATE DELEGATE!