Lawmakers Working to Ease Local Financial Burdens in School Funding Bill

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Leaders in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County said this week they are optimistic that much-needed relief from costly Kirwan Commission recommendations is on the way ― even though provisions weren’t included in an education reform bill expected to cost $4 billion.

Legislative leaders vowed to find ways to assist the two jurisdictions ― which each face a local spending increase of more than $300 million in the next decade if the plan is enacted ― and they said amendments are in the works.

Sponsors in the House and Senate introduced the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” bill to implement the commission’s recommendations on Friday and made text of the legislation available online over the weekend.

The bill is largely an item-by-item reproduction of the commission’s report, translated to legal language.

It would expand pre-kindergarten programs and career education for high schoolers, increase pay and career opportunities for teachers, and increase state funding for schools with high concentrations of poverty.

The reforms require an increase in annual state education spending of $2.8 billion over the next decade and an increase in county-level funding of $1.2 billion during that time. The city of Baltimore and Prince George’s County face the steepest annual spending increases under the new formula, reaching $329.4 million and $360.9 million, respectively, by 2030.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said there’s a will among his colleagues and legislative leaders to ease the financial liability of those two jurisdictions, as well as others.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said legislative and local leaders are discussing funding formula changes and legislative analysts have proposed solutions for financial concerns.

McIntosh said a funding amendment is expected to be announced within a couple of weeks.

Baltimore City and Prince George’s County officials said that conversations have been fruitful and that leaders already are looking to meet cost requirements for the reforms.

Lester Davis, chief of communication and government relations for Baltimore city, said the city has full faith in  legislators negotiating changes to the funding formulas. And, Davis said, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has asked all city agencies to trim their budgets by 5% to help balance the city’s budget and to reserve funds for greater education spending. With increased local spending tied to increased state spending, coupled with a multi-billion-dollar statewide school construction blitz, the initiatives could remake the city schools’ landscape, Davis said.

“We’re going to have to find the financing to pay for it. It’s not always going to be easy, but it is necessary,” Davis said. “…This could be a boon for the city.”

John Erzen, deputy chief of staff to Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), said officials there are confident a funding formula agreement will be reached that’s “equitable, sustainable and responsible for all children across the state.”

Despite financial concerns, Prince George’s supports the policy recommendations of the Kirwan Commission and has already begun implementing some of the proposed reforms, Erzen said.

A joint hearing on the bill by the House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees, and the Senate’s Budget and Taxation and Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committees, is scheduled for Monday.

After the hearing, House committee members plan to hold three open workgroup meetings on the bill to receive and consider amendments.

McIntosh said the House hopes to pass its version of the bill before the deadline for bills to move to the other chamber in mid-March.

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