A University of Maryland alumna is running as a Democrat to serve Prince George's County in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Shabnam Ahmed, who received a degree in global public health and development from this university in 2017, is looking to unseat two-term incumbent Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George's), who has held the District 23A seat since 2011.
The Democratic primary for the district will be held on June 26. District 23A is located in northern Prince George's County and includes cities like South Laurel and Bowie.
Ahmed said she thinks education reform is the most pressing issue facing the district.
"Every single race has addressed education as a main priority because of where our system is headed," she said.
Several recent scandals have rocked the Prince George's County school system, with several school board members accusing the county of artificially increasing graduation rates by changing students' grades. An audit released in November found thousands of students' grades were changed shortly before graduation, The Washington Post reported. Additionally, some school system staff were given improper pay raises, according to The Post.
Ahmed said her experience attending school in the county and serving as the student member of the county board of education in high school has allowed her to see "both sides of the coin" in the education system, which she hopes to reform if elected.
She aims to repeal House Bill 1107, a 2013 law that gives the county executive the power to appoint new members to the Prince George's County Board of Education, including the superintendent. She said the law — which was introduced and passed by Valentino-Smith's delegation — gives the county executive too much power and hurts the board of education's ability to hold public officials accountable and stay in touch with the county's needs.
"Many people on the board … feel more accountable to the county executive than they do to parents, teachers and students they are supposed to be serving," Ahmed said.
Valentino-Smith said she has always taken education needs in the county seriously, pointing to a bill she sponsored for universal pre-K and another that addresses child abuse reporting in schools.
"I believe I am following the needs and wishes of my constituents to be a strong advocate for improving the quality of our education," Valentino-Smith said.
Kevin Thomas, a Bowie State University graduate who is also running in the Democratic primary, said he and Ahmed "have to have audacity" to run against Valentino-Smith.
"It's a challenge to stand up against an establishment [that is] this is well-funded and has infrastructure that newcomers don't have," Thomas said.
Ahmed's father, Shukoor Ahmed, ran for the House of Delegates unsuccessfully in every primary election from 1998 to 2014. Her sister, Raaheela Ahmed, currently serves on the Prince George's County Board of Education.
A lifelong Bowie resident, Shabnam Ahmed was introduced to politics at a young age, knocking on doors and stuffing mailers for her father's campaigns. She described herself and her sister as "good foot soldiers" who got used to the political process very quickly.
But Ahmed said she doesn't want to be a career politician. During her time at this university, she advocated for a two-term limit for Prince George's County Council positions.
"You go, you serve and you let new people come in," she said. "That's what keeps things fresh."
Still, she said, she's eager to create positive change.
"I want to spend the best years of my life doing service," Ahmed said. "I believe it's time for me to serve in that capacity."
In addition to education, Ahmed hopes to address income inequality by supporting a minimum wage increase, paid family leave and affordable housing initiatives. She also hopes to create a more inclusive democracy by prioritizing small donor financing in elections.
Thomas applauded Ahmed for running for public office despite just graduating college.
"It's really a testament to where we are as a country and where we are as a state and how phenomenal of an individual she is to be willing to step up to the plate at such a young age," he said.