Hogan blasts bill that would limit education reforms

Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday blasted an education reform bill that's moving through the General Assembly, calling it "misguided and horrible."

Hogan said the bill — known as the "Protect Our Schools Act" — would thwart "an exciting opportunity to move beyond outdated practices" for reforming schools.

The bill would set standards for how to identify low-performing schools, using a combination of test scores and other factors, such as absenteeism and the number of highly qualified teachers.

It also prohibits the state from taking a number of actions to reform low-performing schools, including seeking to convert them to private charter schools, bringing in private operators, giving the students vouchers for private schools and putting all low-performing schools into a new statewide "recovery" school district.

"Sadly, in one of the most outrageous and irresponsible moves our legislature has ever taken, the House has passed and the Senate is currently debating a bill that prohibits the state Board of Education from taking any substantial action to make any improvements to help persistently low-performing schools," Hogan said during a State House news conference.

Hogan said the bill removes "needed accountability" for these schools and "will make it nearly impossible for our state to save some of these persistently failing schools."

The bill would set parameters for identifying low-performing schools using a formula that relies on test scores for 55 percent and other factors — such as absenteeism and the number of highly-qualified teachers — at 45 percent. The state has proposed weighting test scores at 70 to 80 percent.

Hogan said he will try to block the bill from passing, otherwise he will veto it.

The timing of the bill is crucial, as the state school board is developing a plan to send to the federal government to show how it will identify and help struggling schools. The plan is required to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and is due in September. The bill would limit what the state board can put in the plan.

The state Board of Education is opposed to the bill, as is state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon. She said the state heard from hundreds of people before the draft plan was written. She thinks decisions on education policy are better left to the school board than the legislature.

Salmon and Hogan have raised concerns that if the state's plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act is found insufficient, the federal government might yank $250 million in federal funding for schools with high poverty rates.

"There needs to be, at this point, some kind of a compromise we can develop because we can't be in direct violation of federal law," Salmon said.

The state school board also opposes the bill.

The bill is advancing through the legislature at a rate that could force the governor to sign or veto it in time for lawmakers to take a veto override vote before the end of the General Assembly session on April 10. The House of Delegates already passed the bill by a veto-proof margin and its under consideration in the state Senate.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller predicted a version of the bill will pass his chamber, but he's not sure if he'll have the votes to override a veto promised by Hogan.

"I think the governor will veto the bill and we won't have every Democrat voting for it, but most will," the Calvert County Democrat said Friday.

Hogan's pledge to veto the bill is the third veto promise he's made this session: He also announced plans to veto bills requiring companies to provide sick leave for workers and another that would limit how government and law enforcement officials can assist the federal government on immigration enforcement.

Del. Eric Luedtke, one of the bill's chief sponsors, countered that it's important to judge schools on more than just test scores. He said plenty of reform options are still available, and the bill aims to prevent the privatization of the public school system.

"The state board can't step in and unilaterally tell your school to privatize," said Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, who observed Hogan's news conference.

Luedtke said it's not likely that federal funds for high-poverty schools would be at risk because the federal government gives wide latitude to states in how they comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act.

pwood@baltsun.com

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