Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called for the state education board to investigate accusations of systemic corruption in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.
In a letter Sunday to Andrew Smarick, president of the Maryland State Board of Education, Mr. Hogan directed the panel to “take immediate steps to begin a complete, thorough, and exhaustive investigation into these allegations.”
“Any instances of fraud and corruption in the Maryland public school system certainly represents a state interest,” said Mr. Hogan, a Republican.
With 130,000 students, Prince George’s County is the state’s second-largest school system, behind Montgomery County.
Four members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education called this month for an investigation of the school system’s authenticity of graduation rates. They suspect students’ graduation rates and grades have been inflated because of pressure by public schools CEO Kevin Maxwell.
On Monday, Mr. Maxwell said he looks “forward to collaborating with the Maryland State Department of Education to resolve this matter.”
“From the beginning, I have maintained that politics lie at the root of these accusations,” Mr. Maxwell said in a written statement. “There has been no systemic effort to promote students in Prince George’s County Public Schools who did not meet state graduation requirements in order to inflate our graduation rates.”
County Executive Rushern Baker III, who appointed Mr. Maxwell as the top schools administrator in 2013, extended his nearly $300,000-a-year contract in February by four years. It marked the first contract extension for a schools superintendent in about 25 years in the county.
During Mr. Maxwell’s tenure, the school system has endured a child sex abuse and pornography scandal involving more than a dozen elementary school students and the loss of more than $6 million in federal Head Start funds because of charges of abuse in at least three schools.
According to county schools statistics, the graduation rate for high school seniors rose from 74.1 percent, when Mr. Maxwell became CEO in 2013, to 81.4 percent last year.
The school system earlier this year reported that its graduation rate had risen by more than 2 percentage points in just one year.
In their letter to Mr. Hogan, county school board members Edward Burroughs, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed and student representative Juwan Blocker challenged the veracity of those statistics.
“What does it mean when your graduation rates are in the 90th percentile, yet your math and literacy scores are in single digits or the teens? It doesn’t add up,” Mr. Burroughs said.
Mr. Burroughs said he and the other board members who signed the letter remain confident that an investigation will begin soon because of the number of whistleblowers who have provided information.
“We heard from a lot of employees in the school district. Teachers, counselors and assistant principals at almost every level of the system,” said Mr. Burroughs. “We had people who wanted to come forward, telling us that we had either graduated students who did not meet the state requirement for education, or their grades were changed without the knowledge of teachers — in order to graduate students.”
In his letter to the State Board of Education, Mr. Hogan said those whistleblowers will receive full protection under the law.
The governor also is taking into account concerns from “other state and local officials,” as well as those voiced by state Sen. C. Anthony Muse during his appearance on Fox 5. Mr. Muse, Prince George’s County Democrat, said many parents had asked for answers about the accusations but received none.
“Ensuring that all Maryland children have access to a world-class education is a top priority of my administration,” Mr. Hogan wrote, “and I am deeply troubled by these allegations regarding one of our school systems.”
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