A day before a major deadline, Maryland’s education reform oversight board on Monday approved a new timeline that pushes back some key dates in the decade-long Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan.
The Accountability and Implementation Board — which is responsible for ensuring that the state and local jurisdictions fully implement the multi-billion-dollar education reform plan — will share its proposed timeline with the governor and General Assembly in the next couple of days, according to Rachel Hise, the board’s executive director. Legislative hearings on the topic are scheduled for Thursday.
“The clock on the General Assembly session is ticking and ticking fast,” said AIB member William E. “Brit’ Kirwan, who led a commission that crafted recommendations that make up most of the Blueprint policies. “We need to get them to act on a proposed timeline.”
Isiah “Ike” Leggett, the chair of the accountability board, said he plans to send a letter to state leaders, asking for formal changes in the Blueprint deadlines.
Without a full staff and funding, the AIB has struggled to meet its deadlines outlined in statute. Currently, the board is operating with just one staff member and $1.35 million out of the $4.8 million they expected to receive this fiscal year.
Under the Blueprint law, the board was expected to meet starting in July but was ultimately established in October and met for the first time in November.
The board was also supposed to adopt a final comprehensive plan to implement education reforms by Feb. 15. Now, the panel is proposing completion of a draft plan by October and a final plan in December. Although a draft plan was not required by the Blueprint law, AIB members said a draft would allow for more public engagement and give local school systems more time to adjust their implementation plans.
The board will also seek to begin reviewing local school systems’ implementation plans starting next March, a process that was supposed to begin this June under the Blueprint law.
“Things are moving fairly slowly, although as quickly as they can in some ways,” Hise said last week.
Because the Blueprint officially became law after a veto override last year, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) did not have to include this funding in his proposed budget for this fiscal year, which started July 1. To account for this, lawmakers directed the first $4.8 million from new sports betting revenue to go to the accountability board.
Michael Ricci, Hogan’s director of communications, said that a budget amendment of $659,136 was processed to the AIB on Monday, bringing the board’s current year budget up to $1.35 million. Ricci previously said that the governor’s office would process budget transfers as revenue is collected from the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.
Some board members worried that this new timeline delays Blueprint implementation by almost another year, but Leggett and Hise said that the AIB and local school systems can begin working on parts of the Blueprint along the way.
In the absence of a sweeping Blueprint plan for the next year, Hise suggested that the AIB set goals in key areas of the Blueprint — early childhood, teachers, college and career readiness, student resources and accountability — this spring. Then during the summer, the AIB could meet with local school systems and other government agencies to plan for the next school year, Hise said.
“We can’t lose a year, and quite frankly, the school systems are going to be receiving funding to implement pieces of this, and so there needs to be some guidance on implementation for the upcoming school year,” Hise said in a board meeting last week.
State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury told the AIB on Monday that the Maryland State Department of Education is currently going through a transformation “structurally” and “culturally.” For instance, the state department will shift from providing guidance to local school systems to what he called “playbooks,” which would include detailed explanations, tools and best practices on implementing new initiatives.
“My organization does need to evolve, does need to be able to understand how and why it does things every day…in order for the Blueprint to successfully be implemented,” Choudhury said.
In a long presentation, he outlined what MSDE had done so far to implement the Blueprint — which includes publishing reports on how the state plans to expand pre-K, support English learners and change the way poverty is measured in schools.
The Blueprint education reforms also created “expert review teams” that visit schools and analyze how reforms are being implemented. MSDE has received over 200 applications for review team members from across the country and plans to deploy teams to 50 schools in the next school year, according to Choudhury.
Choudhury proposed that MSDE prepare criteria for local Blueprint implementation plans by April and require local school systems to attend workshops this fall as they develop their implementation plans. “That is definitely on the fast track,” Hise said.
State Board of Education President Clarence Crawford and Choudhury emphasized their intention to work on Blueprint implementation in collaboration with the AIB.
“We hope to have a relationship where there are no surprises — there may be differences, and I think that that’s natural, but there should be no surprises and we should have an opportunity to collaborate and work through those as we go forward,” Leggett said.
Last week on the Senate floor, Sen. Stephen Hershey (R-Upper Shore) requested to hold the confirmation of nominees to the Accountability and Implementation Board, concerned that none of the members were from rural parts of the state. Four reside in Montgomery County, three in Baltimore City, one in Baltimore County and one in Anne Arundel County. The board members received initial approval from the Senate Executive Nominations Committee earlier this month.
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who sat on the committee that nominated AIB members, said they reached out to all 24 jurisdictions and highlighted that the Blueprint’s funding formulas were supported by rural representatives on the Kirwan commission.
Hogan had raised the issue of geographic diversity last fall. In response, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) recommended that the AIB create an advisory panel “to incorporate all voices,” which the board has said it will do.
Although the accountability board got off to a late start and proposed to delay the Blueprint implementation timeline by almost a year, Leggett said it is better to implement the reforms with fidelity than to rush them.
“We’re not going to rush this in order that something meet an artificial deadline,” Leggett said.