Dems on School Construction, Kirwan: ‘We Will Move Forward With Both’

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), surrounded by fellow lawmakers and Prince George's County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), called education the legislature's top priority at a news conference Wednesday. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Maryland’s top legislators vowed on Wednesday to move forward with two multibillion-dollar proposals to improve public education in the state – sweeping reforms proposed by the Kirwan Commission as well as a multi-year school construction blitz.

But lawmakers were scant on details for how funding for the Kirwan proposals could be achieved.

“We’ve got some innovative ways to fund Kirwan and we’re going to produce them at the appropriate time as we move the bills forward,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who plans to step down from his leadership role in January.

Asked a yes or no question about whether taxes will need to be raised for the Kirwan Commission proposal, Miller’s presumed successor, Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), balked.

“What we need to do is have a conversation about values. It’s about what are our choices and what we value most. In any budget year, there are choices that we make around the adequate and equitable funding,” he said. “Education has continued to be a top priority for Maryland. We are going to ensure that every child has a world-class education.”

Far-reaching recommendations of the Kirwan Commission are expected to steadily increase state education funding over the next decade until an additional $2.77 billion in state aid would go to schools in 2030.

The Democrats’ school construction funding proposal – which is to be the first bill introduced in each chamber in January – is expected to authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $2.2 billion in revenue bonds for school construction projects over several years. The bonds would be backed by an annual payment of $125 million from the Education Trust Fund.

Under the scheme, the school construction push would not affect the state’s debt ceiling or draw money away from other projects in the capital budget, House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said.

The proposal echoes a school construction plan proposed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) last year, but Democrats said Hogan wanted to move school construction forward at the expense of the Kirwan Commission recommendations.

“We will move forward with both, because we cannot afford not to,” Ferguson said.

The Democrats, gathered in the hollow auditorium of a shuttered Prince George’s County school, said they will push Hogan to come along on both proposals.

After the news conference, the governor’s office pushed back.

“The governor doesn’t need to be ‘brought along’ on education funding ― he’s consistently funded education at record levels, and by some $420 million more than what the legislative formulas require,” Hogan’s spokesman Michael Ricci said. “But when it comes to unfunded spending increases, yes, he’s going to keep standing up for taxpayers.”

Hogan announced in July that he would also reintroduce his school construction bill in 2020.

“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 Wednesday afternoon. “Clearly, they recognize that we need to provide school systems — and most importantly, our students — with the healthy, efficient, and modern school buildings they deserve. Now that our legislators are finally making school construction a priority, I certainly look forward to working with them to get it done.”

The House of Delegates passed a $2.2 billion school construction bill last year by a 133-3 vote, but the measure stalled in the Senate.

House Speaker Adrienne E. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said passage of the legislation in 2020 cannot come soon enough.

“Every second that we delay funding that will modernize school buildings, we deny our students an opportunity for a brighter future,” she said. “If we achieve nothing else as a General Assembly this term, we will uphold our commitment to making our schools the best in the nation.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Fascinating. Thanks for your investigation of the current thinking on new school construction funding in MD. Of course, you realize that $150 million only buys one large new high school (North Point High in Charles Co. cost 110 million six or seven years ago). That amount might also buy you two new middle schools, or three elementary schools. Just Prince Georges Co. with half of its 200 school buildings over 50 years old could use all money150 million for the state and would still never be able to modernize its schools. Legislators need to know how much new schools are costing to build, find ways to reduce those costs, and make realistic plans for modernizing schools throughout the state over the next ten years.

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