Hogan vetoes bill limiting Maryland school reforms

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a bill on Wednesday that would set standards for identifying low-performing schools and limit the state's options for reforming them.

Democratic lawmakers plan to override the veto in the coming days.

Hogan announced his veto at Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys. Children in uniform at the public charter school cheered as he held up a copy of the bill with "veto" stamped across the top.

The Republican governor said the bill — dubbed the "Protect Our Schools Act" — would "directly threaten" Maryland's national reputation of providing high-quality public education by trapping children in failing schools and preventing the state from "taking any substantial actions" to improve them.

The Democrat-led General Assembly approved the bill by a veto-proof margin, and sent it to Hogan's desk on a timeline that would allow for a veto override vote before the end of the 90-day legislative session on Monday.

The bill would set standards for how the state would identify low-performing schools that Hogan says rely too little on standardized tests. And it would prevent the state from taking several actions to improve those schools, including converting them to charter schools, bringing in private management, giving the students vouchers to attend private schools or putting the schools into a special statewide "recovery" school district.

Hogan and members of the state school board argue that the bill would tie their hands as they try to rescue low-performing schools.

"It's about kids being trapped in schools that don't give them a real chance, and where they are denied a quality education," Hogan said.

The state board also opposes the bill.

"The State Board of Education continues to oppose this legislation because it de-prioritizes student achievement, dictates how we share school-performance information with families and other stakeholders, and limits, instead of expands, the state's ability to address the needs of boys and girls in persistently underperforming schools," board President Andy Smarick said in a statement.

Hogan's veto was quickly praised by advocacy groups including the Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now and Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools.

"Put plainly, this bill will continue to widen the achievement gap across our state and sends a false sense of substantive achievement for children," said Jenese Jones, Maryland CAN's interim executive director.

Hogan urged lawmakers not to override his veto. He said hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for high-poverty schools would be at risk if the federal government doesn't approve of the state's plan for low-performing schools.

Supporters of the bill counter that the loss of federal funds is unlikely, as federal education officials have said they will generally defer to the states on those plans. The plans are due in September as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Maryland State Education Association, the powerful state teachers union, called the governor's veto of the bill "out of touch." MSEA and Democratic lawmakers have criticized Hogan for joining in a "privatization agenda" pushed by President Donald J. Trump's controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

"It's profoundly frustrating that the governor refuses to stand with parent, educator, and civil rights groups in support of a smarter, more transparent approach to holding schools accountable, and instead stands with Betsy DeVos in attempting to privatize our public schools," teachers union president Betty Weller said in statement.

The Protect Our Schools Act is one of more than two dozen bills that lawmakers sent to the governor's desk early this year, and it is the first he has vetoed. Hogan has signed several others.

pwood@baltsun.com

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