ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is blaming teachers unions for blocking students from returning to the classroom in Maryland’s largest public school districts after nearly a year of remote learning forced by the coronavirus.
Hogan is desperate for Maryland children to resume regular, in-person instruction, saying Wednesday he has satisfied key demands the teachers unions made as a condition for returning to campus. The governor invested $1 billion in federal money the state received to retrofit school buildings to address health concerns, provided 1 million coronavirus test kits to school districts, and moved teachers to the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccinations.
Meanwhile, Maryland schools qualify to reopen under the new, onerous guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that have been criticized as unreasonable by proponents of on-campus education. The teachers unions are nonetheless rebuffing attempts to reopen public schools, Hogan told the Washington Examiner during an interview in the governor’s office in Annapolis, the Maryland capital.
“It’s critically important that we get our kids back in school. It’s been nearly a year, and the learning loss is incredible, particularly among the most disadvantaged kids from minority communities,” he said. “Most of the teachers that we talk to, everywhere, are dying to get back in the classroom. It’s a union organizer-type thing. I don’t really know why.”
Hogan’s frustration extends to President Biden. The governor believes Biden is serious about phasing out remote learning, which has proliferated throughout the pandemic, and reopening most public schools by the end of his first 100 days in the White House. The president said as much Tuesday evening during a CNN town hall meeting in Milwaukee. But Hogan said Biden keeps backtracking in what appears to him to be a clear capitulation to organized labor.
“Biden wants to get [children] back in school,” the governor said. “He’s very passionate about it. But it’s a tug of the teachers union and his base … so he changed his mind.”
Hogan was reelected in 2018 in deep-blue Maryland. Over the past four years, he was known more for his broadsides against then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, than criticism of the Democratic interest groups he has to work with to govern in a state that delivered 65.4% of its vote to Biden last November. But Hogan, like many suburban parents in liberal strongholds, is growing frustrated with teachers unions’ resistance to returning to the classroom.
Hogan is not empowered to force them back.
In Maryland, much of that power rests with elected school boards. The governor said state and county health officials, as well as school superintendents throughout Maryland, support the reopening of public schools. It’s the school boards, sympathetic to the teachers unions, that continue to waver. So far, less than half of Maryland school districts have reopened campuses for some version of in-person education, particularly those in rural areas.
“The bigger school systems with the most powerful teachers unions did not” reopen, Hogan said. “All the private schools in the state opened in August, so it’s, again, exacerbating the [learning] gap between students that are struggling” and those who are progressing.