Maryland schools will receive $210 million to bolster remote learning programs and improve tutoring and rural broadband access as educators and students deal with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the Hogan administration announced Monday.
“Long-standing gaps in educational opportunity and access have been further exposed and widened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon. “Our goal with these resources is to give local school systems the support and flexibility to help ensure that students most impacted during the crisis receive intense focus and priority in our recovery efforts.”
The head of the Maryland State Education Association, which represents more than 75,000 teachers and school employees in the state, said the funding comes too late to help many students who struggled with online access through the spring.
Cheryl Bost, president of the MSEA, also was critical of Gov. Larry Hogan for the funding announcement at a time when his administration is proposing more than $300 million in state budget cuts to public education.
The remote learning funds are not from state budget allocations. Rather, they come from federal stimulus money contained in the CARES Act designed to counter the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
State officials said $100 million will be given to local school systems to ensure that technological devices and internet connectivity remain up-to-date. This money will also help guarantee adequate staff to maintain and distribute technology equipment.
Another $100 million will help schools implement additional targeted tutoring and learning programs to assist at-risk students whose math and reading scores are significantly below their grade level. Research has shown that the rate of learning gain can be improved with intensive tutoring.
The final $10 million will go to the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband to construct a wireless education network for students’ use in western Maryland, southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. This network will initially be constructed in areas that lack broadband service but could be expanded to cover locations where access is limited.
To counter the dramatic impact on the state’s budget from the pandemic, Hogan last week proposed $1.45 billion in spending cuts that would reach almost every aspect of the state budget, including education. The Board of Public Works will take up about $672 million of those overall spending cuts at its meeting on Wednesday.
Among the proposed state budget cuts, MSEA officials said, were reductions to teacher retirement contributions, to the Healthy School Facilities Fund and to disparity grants that are given to less affluent jurisdictions and often are used to fund education.
Hogan also proposed over $230 million in additional budget cuts that need to be considered by the Maryland General Assembly. Over 80 percent of these cuts would be made to statewide K-12 school funding aid, impacting every jurisdiction in the state, and $32 million would be cut from capital improvement school projects.
“So, this (remote learning) money is coming after the school year, and we know thousands of students were not able to access distance learning due to the digital divide, not having access to the technology, not having connectivity to be able to take part in online lessons,” Bost said. “So, it comes too late to close the gap, and we’ve seen, these inequities, that they’ve only grown during this crisis.”
Hogan’s office did not return calls seeking a response to the MSEA assertions. The governor, along with the leaders of other states, has been aggressively pushing Congress and the Trump administration to provide an aid package that would help states avoid severe budget cuts.
The governor’s offices said that the state has committed a total of more than $255 million in CARES Act funding for education priorities.