ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday called on lawmakers to support his proposals for education targeted at bricks and mortar as well as student performance.
The proposals for a massive infusion of school construction funds and “accountability” provisions from the second term governor come nearly a month before lawmakers reconvene in the state capital to devote a vast majority of the 90-day session to education issues. At the top of legislators’ agenda will be a contentious plan from the Kirwan Commission that Hogan says will result in massive tax increases.
Hogan Thursday quickly dismissed assertions that his efforts were meant to compete with the Kirwan recommendations on education.
“This has nothing to do with Kirwan” said Hogan.
The Kirwan plan, if fully implemented, would add $4 billion in new annual spending on education with much of the money going to teacher salaries and new positions as well as to preschool programs.
One of Hogan’s proposals, which he named the Class Act — Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools — would allow communities to take over schools that have a one star rating for two consecutive years. The governor said accountability provisions within the Kirwan proposals either don’t go far enough or would reduce funding to struggling schools.
“We don’t believe children who live in the communities deserve to be punished because of the continued failures of adult leaders.” said Hogan.
Hogan said the plan is modeled after a similar concept in Massachusetts but would not be charter schools. Schools that are taken over would be put on a five-year improvement plan and would continue to receive full public funding.
The plan was applauded by Republican leaders in the House of Delegates.
“The lack of accountability was a chief reason for the failures of the Thornton Commission plan,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties and House Minority Whip. “The Kirwan Commission heard this directly from a former member of the Thornton Commission, and yet the Kirwan recommendations contain rather anemic accountability measures. We cannot continue the practice of throwing money at education and then simply hope for the best.”
Leaders of the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said they see Hogan’s plan as an effort to thwart the reforms proposed by the Kirwan Commission.
“I was disappointed because what I heard today is what we’re already doing,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the union. “I was more disappointed because I didn’t hear support for the Kirwan recommendations and expanding technology education and expanding our community schools, the things that are really going to make a difference for students and educators.”
‘More money’ for school construction
Hogan’s second proposal calls for $3.8 billion to be pumped into school construction and maintenance projects statewide over five years. The plan mirrors one he proposed a year ago and appears to compete with a proposal backed by Democratic lawmakers.
Hogan said he would use $125 million a year from the Education Trust Fund — the lockbox funded by the state share of casino gaming revenues — to pay for the bonds borrowed by the Maryland Stadium Authority.
There are $3.7 billion in requests for state aid for projects this year. Hogan said his plan would fund every project.
Hogan proposed a similar but cheaper plan last year that would use the same $125 million.
Democratic lawmakers will make school construction one of their top priorities. Last month they promised legislation that would pump $2.2 billion into school construction. The largest share of the money would go to Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Hogan said his plan is different from lawmakers, who would also use $125 million annually from the trust fund to pay for stadium authority bonds, because “it’s more money.”
He did not elaborate on how he could provide more money using the same trust fund dollars repaid over the same three decades. One possible explanation is that the governor’s nearly $4 billion over five years also includes the state general obligation bonds provided to schools that equals between $350 and $400 million annually.
“It is difficult to respond to slogans when there aren’t actual details behind them,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County. “I am pleased, however, that the governor is finally engaging in a conversation about our public schools after three years of the Kirwan Commission meeting. I will count that as progress.”
Sen. William “Bill” Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, called on Hogan to work with the legislature on school funding issues.
“We clearly have common ground on the issue of school construction and believe that we can find a united path forward on this critical infrastructure need,” said Ferguson. “In addition, accountability must be a core priority as we invest in Maryland public schools’ operations to ensure our ability to compete in an increasingly complex 21st century economy.”