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Kirwan education plan gets final legislative approval

William "Brit" Kirwan speaks Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

William “Brit” Kirwan, shown in a 2019 photo, says that passage of the education reforms proposed by the commission he led will  help Maryland create the “world-class education system our children deserve.” (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House of Delegates gave final approval to a multibillion-dollar expansion of education funding billed as a once-in-a-generation change to improve public school education.

The House voted 96-38  along party lines on House Bill 1300 just a day after the Senate gave its final approval to an amended plan. The House and Senate also voted to approve a plan that would pump $2 billion into public school construction and renovation.

The bill implements recommendations of the Kirwan Commission that include expanding pre-kindergarten education, increasing teacher salaries and hiring more instructors.

Architects of the plan say it is designed not only to improve the overall quality of education in Maryland’s public schools but to close the achievement gap between white and minority students.

The proposal comes at a cost of about $3.4 billion in combined state and local spending by fiscal 2030. The General Assembly has not identified a way to fully fund its share of the plan.

Several bills remain in the House and Senate that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year, including the proposed expansion of the sales tax to digital downloads and streaming services and a Senate plan to tax online advertising. The latter bill is expected to face significant court challenges if it is passed and becomes law.

The revenue bills are expected to be voted on before the House and Senate end an abbreviated session on Wednesday.

The Senate added provisions Monday night to the Kirwan measure that would pause spending on the plan if state revenues fall by 7.5% or more. Lawmakers expressed a concern about the economy and revenues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A second amendment requires an independent board to assess the success of the program. A negative assessment could result in a halt to additional funding increases.

“Generations of Marylanders will remember what you did here today,” said Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan, the leader of the Kirwan Commission. “Seeing the groundswell of support for this effort to lift up Maryland’s children has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. To every student who sent in letters and attended rallies, to every parent and educator who visited their legislators and made phone calls – this victory is yours.

“To the legislators who have listened, asked thoughtful questions and voted for this bill today, Maryland thanks you. It’s time to make this bill law, so we can begin the work of building the world-class education system our children deserve.”

Gov. Larry Hogan has questioned the cost of the proposal and the potential sales, property and income tax increases he said will be needed to pay for the plan. He has vowed to veto those taxes.

The legislature Tuesday also voted to approve a plan to spend more than $2 billion for school construction and renovation. The amount is over and above the roughly $350 million the state spends annually on school construction projects.

Hogan had proposed a similar plan this year.


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