Maryland leaders announce $2.2B school construction measure

November 7, 2019 GMT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland lawmakers outlined plans on Wednesday for increasing school construction funding by $2.2 billion, as part of a larger push to increase education funding by billions of dollars.

Democrats who control the General Assembly discussed the proposal in what amounted to a preview of the leading role education funding will play in the upcoming legislative session. The school construction measure is in addition to a separate plan they support to phase in billions of dollars more for needs inside the classroom.

Under the plan, $2.2 billion in additional funding would go to school construction over several years. The money would be on top of about $400 million the state spends each year to build and repair schools. It would be financed by bonds through the Maryland Stadium Authority, and the debt would be paid by $125 million annually from casino revenue that goes to the state for education.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the measure would enable jurisdictions to work with the Maryland Stadium Authority, which will be able to issue bonds for projects.

Democratic leaders used the announcement to reinforce their commitment to approving a separate plan that is being finalized by a state commission to update the state’s funding formulas for K through 12.

It has been estimated that fully implementing the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission would cost about $4 billion annually in a decade. The recommendations include investing in pre-K and increasing teacher pay. They also include implementing rigorous curricula, providing more support to struggling schools and to children who live in poverty.

“We all stand behind the basic principle that every child deserves the best public education, regardless of their ZIP code,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan made a proposal of his own last year to increase school construction funding.

“While they are a year late, we are glad that General Assembly leaders are now endorsing our historic school construction plan,” Hogan said in a statement after Wednesday’s announcement.

However, Hogan has criticized the Kirwan Commission proposal. He has described it as “well-meaning,” but sorely lacking on identifying funding. The governor has vowed to fight the huge tax increases he expects the commission’s plan to require.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is stepping down from his leadership post in January after more than 30 years, said he intends to make education a main part of his legacy.

Miller underscored that the governor’s proposal only includes the school construction component, and none of the Kirwan Commission.

“We’ve got some innovative ways to fund Kirwan,” Miller, a Democrat, said during the announcement at Forest Heights Elementary School in Prince George’s County. “We’re going to introduce them at the appropriate time as we move the bills forward.”

Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who already has been nominated by the Senate Democratic Caucus to succeed Miller in January when the legislative session begins, highlighted the need for both proposals. In doing so, he recalled his direct experience with dilapidated schools as a former teacher in Baltimore. Ferguson said he had to carry a pair of scissors to open a classroom door that didn’t have a doorknob to let students out to use the restroom.

“There are many options for how to get this done, and we look forward to having negotiations and conversations with the governor, with legislative leaders, with county executives to ensure that we make education the top priority for the state of Maryland,” Ferguson said.