The board charged with overseeing the implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future decade-long education reform plan met virtually for the first time on Monday, but is hindered from fully operating due to a lack of funding.
The AIB is responsible for ensuring that the state and local jurisdictions fully implement the multi-billion-dollar Blueprint education reforms, which aim to close student achievement gaps and transform Maryland’s education system over the next decade. It was formally created last month, after the nomination process was mired with concerns over the lack of geographical and demographical representation of its members.
“So much is going to fall to this particular body to ensure that the good ideas that the General Assembly has passed, the funding, etc. is faithfully and rigorously implemented,” said William “Brit” Kirwan, an AIB board member and chair of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, whose policy recommendations make up the foundation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
“If that happens, what a difference it’s going to make for our state.”
However, the AIB is currently operating without a budget. The Blueprint bill stipulates that Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) fund $1.8 million per year for the AIB’s operation and an additional $3 million for technical assistance to local school systems through the 2024 fiscal year.
Because the Blueprint officially became law after a veto override in February, Hogan did not include that funding in his proposed budget, which he released in January.
To account for this, legislators directed additional revenue from new sports betting and fantasy sports regulations to go to the AIB for up to $4.8 million this fiscal year, which started July 1.
However, earlier this month, a state commission delayed making a decision on the first applicants for sports betting licenses, which means it will be longer until Maryland brings in revenue from sportsbooks.
There is a smaller amount of revenue, $692,000 from fantasy sports regulation, that will be credited to the Blueprint fund for the operation of the AIB, according to Rachel Hise from the Department of Legislative Services.
In this year’s budget bill, lawmakers also authorized the governor to submit a budget amendment to transfer money into the Blueprint fund, including the $4.8 million for the AIB to start functioning this fiscal year. But to date, Hogan has not used this authority.
“The legislature passed a bill to fund this board with sports gaming revenue. The legislature’s commission is now holding up those licenses. By refusing to take the action outlined in their own bill, they are holding up their own funding,” Michael Ricci, spokesman for Hogan, said in an email. He did not address questions on whether the Hogan administration plans on releasing $4.8 million to the AIB this fiscal year.
Board member Mara Doss asked if hiring staff for the AIB is contingent on the revenues from sports betting.
“That’s the potential…hiccup for us if we don’t get resolved and hopefully…it’s something we can get resolved, at least to start,” said Ike Leggett, the chair of the panel.
An additional challenge for the AIB is to figure out a new timeline for report deadlines that they cannot make, since the board was not operating by the expected July 1 date in the law. For instance, the AIB was supposed to update the governor and General Assembly on the progress of Blueprint implementation by Nov. 1 and have a comprehensive implementation plan ready by Feb. 15.
The four month delay in establishing the AIB has created a “domino effect,” Hise said.
Board members also worried about establishing deadlines without knowing when they will have access to funds.
Local school districts also need ample time to develop a local Blueprint plan and to get it approved by their local board of education, said board member Jennifer Lynch. Under the law, local school systems must submit their implementation plans to the AIB by June 15, and although a June deadline allows school officials to begin planning over the summer for the upcoming school year, “I think it’s ambitious,” Lynch said.
Laura Stapleton, a board member, suggested a timeline that is conditional on the timing of receiving the $4.8 million. “The school district shouldn’t have to come up with their plans without having some technical assistance,” she said.
On Monday, the AIB also voted to establish an advisory committee, which could help address concerns about geographical diversity, Doss said. To mitigate concerns about the lack of diversity of the AIB, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) had recommended that the AIB create “an advisory panel of sufficient size to incorporate all voices.”
The AIB will decide who will be on the advisory committee and its task in the future, Leggett said. Board member Fagan Harris stressed incorporating students’ voices in the advisory committee.
Shamoyia Gardiner, executive director of Strong Schools Maryland, a grassroots organization advocating for the Blueprint, said she was optimistic to hear the board members are dedicated to the implementation of the Blueprint but was worried that the AIB would not be able to do meaningful work until they get funding to hire staff.
“I really thought we were past this point when it comes to talking about funding, [about] what is necessary for public education to function,” Gardiner said. “We are a state that is flush with cash…we know the funding exists, and we have more than enough of a surplus at the state level,” she said.