Gov. Larry Hogan will allow the first portion of money earmarked for a major expansion in education funding to become law without his signature.
In a letter sent to leaders of the Maryland General Assembly, the second-term Republican said he would release $255 million as a down payment on funding recommended by a blue ribbon panel known as the Kirwan Commission. However, Hogan expressed concerns about the costs of the program and whether it includes adequate academic accountability measures.
“Education has been — and continues to be — my top priority,” Hogan said in the letter. “However, I have significant reservations about your short-sighted methods for implementing the Kirwan Commission’s final recommendations — namely that they will lead to massive increases in expenditures without providing the fiscal safeguards and much-needed accountability our students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers deserve.”
The funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is the first portion of a two-year plan sometimes referred to as “year zero.” Money in the upcoming budget year is earmarked for pre-kindergarten education, teacher raises and community schools for impoverished areas.
As part of the bill Hogan is allowing to become law, a minimum of $370 million will be earmarked for the recommendations in fiscal 2021. The amount could increase to as much as $500 million if lawmakers can identify a funding source.
One potential source is revenue lawmakers hope will come to the state as a result of a Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for states to collect sales taxes on online purchases.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, in a joint statement, expressed disappointment for Hogan’s refusal to sign the law but said they appreciated that he did not veto the bill, either.
“We are heartened to see your administration’s concern about making certain that the blueprint is fully funded, and we ask you to help us find a path forward on this issue,” the legislative leaders wrote, adding they would ask the Kirwan Commission to schedule an October meeting and invite the governor to attend and make recommendations for funding.
But Hogan remains skeptical about the link between funding and student achievement.
Ultimately, the Kirwan proposal is expected to increase education spending to more than $4 billion annually once it is fully phased in over a decade beyond the “year zero” funding.
Hogan has repeatedly expressed concerns over the eye-popping cost of the proposal, which represents a 20 percent increase in the current general fund budget of nearly $20 billion.
Hogan said such an increase, for which neither legislators nor the commission have identified a funding source, would cost Maryland households $6,200 in additional taxes over five years.
“As we have seen in the past, more funding does not always equate to better results,” Hogan wrote, referring to testing results and the performance gap between white and black students following passage of the Thornton education funding formula in 2002 that pumped more than $1.3 billion annually into public schools.
Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said she was surprised Hogan would decline to sign a bill that was also supported by Republicans in the House and Senate. The bill passed by veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
“We know this funding will go to these dedicated purposes because of strong accountability measures in the law. In addition to including Governor Hogan’s proposal of creating an inspector general for education, the bill requires audits of school systems on a broad array of matters including ‘fraud, waste, and abuse,’” said Bost, leader of the state’s largest teacher’s union. “This is just the beginning of an accountability plan developed by the Kirwan Commission that will ensure any additional funding for education is spent on research-based, student-centered policies recommended by the commission and passed into law by the legislature.”