Despite veto threat, Maryland lawmakers send Hogan bill to limit school reforms

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Disregarding Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's veto threat, the Democrat-dominated General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to forbid the state from using vouchers or charter schools to fix struggling schools.

Both the Senate and House approved the bill by veto-proof margins, setting in motion a political showdown with Hogan for the final two weeks of session.

The governor immediately reinforced his promise to veto the legislation, saying it effectively forced kids to stay in failing schools.

Advocates pressed for the legislation as a way to prevent the governor and state school board from enacting controversial reforms Hogan recommended as Maryland seeks to meet new federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Among the most hotly contested issues were whether the General Assembly should forbid the state school board from putting all failing schools into a single "reform" district, turning those struggling public schools into charters or granting their students vouchers to attend private schools.

"There are hundreds of options for fixing an underperforming schools rather than privitazing" them, said Del. Eric Luedtke, the Montgomery County Democrat who led supporters of the bill. "We are just preventing the state board from unilaterally taking the most radical steps."

Hogan says the bill thwarts the executive branch's authority and jeopardizes nearly $250 million in federal aid for the state's poorest schools, a scenario first raised by the nonpartisan legislative analysts that advise the General Assembly.

Supporters of the bill say they believe the plan would be compliant with the federal law and the funds wouldn't be at risk.

The governor has promised to veto three bills, and the education reform one is the first to be sent to his desk. Lawmakers are still weighing a paid sick leave proposal and a measure that would limit local police's cooperation with immigration authorities.

Lawmakers who advanced the education law said they must act now, before the Maryland State Board of Education adopts policies that lawmakers dislike in advance of a September deadline to comply with federal law. Top advocates say they're setting broad policy and leaving details to the school board, likening the measure to "guard rails" that would take the most controversial options for helping struggling schools off the table.

The lengthy and complicated legislation defines how much the state should rely on testing when determining if schools are failing. It also rules out letting private operators take over public schools at the state's direction.

"Hopefully we can give them strategic direction," said Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Some of the reforms the state's education board would be forbidden from enacting could still be used by local school boards. The state's powerful teachers union, the Maryland State Education Association, backs the legislation, saying it's necessary to block Maryland from following a school privatization agenda championed by Republican President Donald J. Trump and his controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

"This bill will give Maryland the strongest, smartest, and most transparent school accountability system in the country. Educators applaud legislators for stopping Gov. Hogan from working with Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos to privatize our public schools," Sean Johnson, the union's legislative director, said in a statement Tuesday.

Under the federal education law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, the state must identify the Maryland's most persistently struggling schools, including the bottom 5 percent of schools with high poverty rates known as Title I schools and high schools that don't graduate at least two-thirds of their students.

Hogan said in a statement that hamstringing state education experts, as he says the state legislation would do for political reasons, is a "moral outrage" that is "designed to hide the failures of school leaders and administrators who have been operating these schools for years at the expense of the children they claim to be serving.

"Every child in Maryland deserves a great education, regardless of which neighborhood they happen to grow up in, but this legislation would make that nearly impossible," Hogan said.

Republicans attempted to filibuster debate in the Senate, with the Minority Leader J.B. Jennings attempting to read more than 380 pages of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Democrats used their super-majority to vote to limit debate after more than an hour of discussion.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

ecox@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ErinatTheSun

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
81°