Hogan Hammers Message of Accountability With School Takeover Plan

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced Thursday that he will introduce bills in 2020 to reform struggling schools and start a multibillion-dollar school construction blitz. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced a plan on Thursday to allow local residents to take over schools that receive failing grades in the state’s education accountability system.

It was Hogan’s latest attempt to hammer home the message that he believes education reform in the state must begin with numerous accountability measures.

Hogan said he will introduce the “Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools Act” in the 2020 legislative session to address what he sees as a lack of accountability in state education law.

At a news conference in Annapolis, Hogan said he disagreed with recommendations from the Kirwan Commission that would allow an independent oversight board to withhold up to 25 percent of a school’s budget if it underperforms on new policy reforms.

Hogan said his plan would keep the same funding in place for struggling schools, but automatically designate them as an “Innovation School” if they receive a one-star rating in the state’s annual report card for two years in a row. In the 2019 report card issued this week, 14 schools in the state have been at a one-star level for the last two years.

The bill would allow the superintendents and school boards of Maryland’s counties and the city of Baltimore to establish “Innovation Plan committees” that would develop a five-year plan for the school, including new goals for student achievement and changes to curriculum, budget, school schedule, staffing policies and professional development. The local committees would include representation from parents, teachers, the school board, and those with backgrounds in youth development, management and finance.

“Local communities will be able to take charge of that failing school and be empowered to enact critical changes,” Hogan said.

Hogan said there was a proposal years ago for state takeover of failing schools, but he thinks a neighborhood-level approach makes more sense.

The full draft language of the bill was not available on Thursday, but Hogan said it is based on a similar model implemented in Massachusetts under the former Democratic governor, Deval Patrick.

Hogan also said Thursday that he will introduce a school construction bill ― in the same vein as a $2.2 billion proposal he put forward last year ― that would complete $3.8 billion in school construction projects throughout the state within five years. The figure would cover the current funding requests from all 24 local boards of education.

“It’s a lot more money,” Hogan said of his plan, though his office could not immediately explain how the $3.8 billion figure would be reached.

The funding mechanism would be much the same as the one he proposed a year ago and which Democratic leadership embraced last month: $125 million in annual payments from the Education Trust Fund to pay the debt service on billions of dollars of 30-year school construction bonds issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Democrats have said that financing scheme would yield $2.2 billion for school construction spending, on top of the roughly $300 million-$400 million annual capital budget spending on public schools. Taken together, their plan would also yield about $3.8 billion in construction over five years.

Hogan’s office did not specify whether his plan included the ongoing school construction spending or not.

Hogan’s proposals were entirely separate from the much-debated Kirwan Commission recommendations to improve Maryland’s public schools, but the governor on Thursday continued to express his desire for greater accountability in the state’s current education system and in the Kirwan Commission proposals.

The Kirwan Commission has recommended that increased education funding be dedicated to particular policy goals and that an oversight board independent of the State Department of Education would monitor implementation of the new policies. Last year the legislature approved creation of an Office of the Inspector General for education issues ― an office proposed in a bill from the governor ― though the position has not yet been implemented. Hogan said an announcement on the new inspector general would be made soon.

“The only thing we really got was the inspector general. That was one of a hundred different things we’d like to see on accountability. We’re going to continue to push for accountability,” Hogan said. “This [Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools Act] is another big step on the worst part of it. These are the kids who have been cheated, where they really have not been able to fix the persistently failing schools.”

Hogan also said he would have liked to have a stronger state accountability system under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, but that state lawmakers and the teachers’ union pushed for a watered down system, he said.

“I think some people are just opposed to more accountability,” Hogan said.

Despite butting heads with legislators over implementation and funding of the Kirwan Commission recommendations, Hogan said he was interested in continuing discussions with them.

“We’re going to work with the legislature on some of the Kirwan recommendations. …To implement some of the recommendations, we’re going to say we want more accountability in multiple different areas,” he said, though he didn’t list specific changes he’d like to see.

Senate President-nominee Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), a frequent Hogan adversary, found some things to like in the governor’s message.

“I was pleased this morning to see the Governor introduce proposals to move our education system forward. 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,” Ferguson said in a statement. “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.”

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said the news conference highlighted the different approaches she and the governor take on education.

“As a member of the Kirwan Commission, I spent hundreds of hours listening to education experts, parents and teachers in order to craft a comprehensive plan to ensure that all of our students can compete in a global economy. It is difficult to respond to slogans when there aren’t actual details behind them,” she said in a statement after the governor’s presentation. “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.”

Hogan said Thursday’s announcements marked “the next chapter of education reform in Maryland.”

But Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said she wished he’d held a news conference to more substantially address ways to ensure the Kirwan Commission’s policy priorities are implemented.

“I’m always hopeful that the governor will come on board with the Kirwan recommendations because there’s been so much thought and time put into really making them comprehensive, so they reach every aspect of our schools,” she said.

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