CUMBERLAND — Democratic Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Jon Baron, a former nonprofit executive who served in the Clinton administration and was twice confirmed by the U.S. Senate, says he wants to see the way the state operates change, lest it stay stuck in the same rut it has been for the past 20 years.
The answer to the state’s woes, according to Baron, is solutions-based and well-researched social program policy, focused on, among other things, education and economy.
“The poverty rate today in Maryland is 9%. You know what it was in 1995? It was 9%. For low- and moderate-income Marylanders, they have seen stagnant wages for decades as income inequality has grown,” said Baron. “In another area, education, more than a quarter of middle school students in our state can’t read at a basic level. More than one-third can’t do basic math.”
The rates of students reading and doing math at below standard levels are also similar to what they were 20 years ago, Baron said. Every election cycle, everyone running says they have a new plan, he said, but the problem persists because the solutions are not approached properly.
Baron, who recently headed a philanthropic initiative that identified and then expanded social programs that were found to work, wants to bring the same mindset to Annapolis.
“When I’m governor, we will do what’s proven to work,” he said.
Two programs in Baron’s arsenal, which he would like to see implemented statewide, are guaranteed tutoring for all struggling first and second graders in the state and wide-ranging job training programs working in unison with local businesses and fast-growing industries.
The proposed child tutoring program would recruit and train people from the communities where they live, including retirees and recent college graduates, and offer them a “modest stipend” for their public service.
Many job training programs do not work, Baron said, and in order to get his to work the focus would be on fast-growing industries like information technology and health care. In addition, the state would work with local businesses to design specific and needed trainings, where the employer would provide the paid internship and the state would pay for the training. Job training that does work can result in increases in earnings as much as 40%.
“Now in a place like Allegany County, the way it might work is, Allegany has a terrific resource in Frostburg State University, and universities and colleges often can be the vehicle for this kind of effective job training,” said Baron. “A lot of these well-paying jobs in fast-growing fields like information technology can be done remotely, so someone can be trained for that kind of job, live in Cumberland and commute in once a week to Frederick or Rockville or Baltimore.”
In order to make the proposed plan work, broadband infrastructure in the region would have to improve, however.
The bottom line is this, he said, “If we just keep doing what we’re doing now, if we continue our current course, we’ll be here in another 20 years and nothing will have changed.”