Anne Arundel County’s school system is planning to expand pre-kindergarten for low-income students, boost salaries for teachers and add opportunities and course offerings through its existing partnership with Anne Arundel Community College in the next two years. The changes are part of the system’s plan to roll out the state’s Blueprint education reform.
Maryland’s General Assembly approved the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future in 2021, kicking off an enormous effort by the state’s education department, 24 public school systems and other agencies to reform public education in the state. Officials will spend the coming decade distributing billions of dollars in additional funding to schools, although the ramifications may not be fully apparent until the cohort of students that entered prekindergarten in fall 2022 graduate from high school in 2036.
Each jurisdiction’s plan for implementing the Blueprint’s many requirements was due Wednesday to the state’s seven-person oversight authority, the Accountability and Implementation Board. Anne Arundel school system leaders submitted their 186-page plan Tuesday afternoon and posted it online for public review at aacps.org/blueprintplan.
Blueprint policies are divided into five pillars: early childhood education, high-quality and diverse teachers and leaders, college and career readiness, more resources for students to be successful, and governance and accountability.
Each pillar outlines a list of critical policy changes. Some highlights include expanded prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income households, salary boosts and professional development incentives for teachers and intensive interventions to prepare students to be college and career ready by 10th grade.
While the Blueprint legislation mapped out a 10-year time frame, Anne Arundel’s plan will focus on this school year and the next, said Shannon Pugh, Anne Arundel’s Blueprint implementation coordinator. Additional phases will come later, she said.
“Under the leadership of Superintendent Mark Bedell, he really wants the use of the Blueprint to be transformative, but our plan is limited to this school year and the following school year,” she said.
In addition to the more than 50 program opportunities currently offered at the Center for Career Technology North and South, such as cosmetology, business management, and trade classes, the Blueprint will allow the school system to add more programs and expand class sizes, Pugh said. It will also open doors for students to explore options that are not presently available, such as an industry certification pathway for remote drone piloting.
“We are not turning over the last two years of the high school experience to the community college; these are just opportunities that open doors for more students to participate in,” Pugh said.
In 2022, the school system announced it would begin offering free enrollment at Anne Arundel Community College for sophomores, juniors and seniors pursuing to college. The college will cover tuition and fees for career and technology courses, dual enrollment courses and Anne Arundel County Public Schools signature program courses that align with an associate degree pathway at the community college, and/or an approved career and technology pathway. Course offerings may expand in the future.
“This is an opportunity for us to acknowledge, encourage and celebrate students who want to go into non-college pathways as their future career,” she said.
The Blueprint’s first pillar, expanding early childhood education service to 3-and 4-year-old children, will be a challenge for all 24 jurisdictions in the state, Pugh said.
Every jurisdiction in the state, including Anne Arundel, will apply for a waiver from the requirements set forth by the Blueprint for the distribution of public and private pre-kindergarten slots for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years, she said.
In anticipation of Blueprint expectations and to address best practices related to pre-K, the county school system has converted the 4-year-old pre-kindergarten program to full-day in 61 schools. This school year, the school system launched a 3-year-old pre-kindergarten program in eight schools.
Though Anne Arundel was able to offer every income-eligible family who applied for a pre-K program a seat this year, a shortage of classroom space remains a barrier for school systems to meet Blueprint requirements. The county is partnering with two nonprofit vendors that offer private pre-K slots, but they need more, and partnerships with private providers are limited right now.
“The issue is private providers are not interested in partnering with public school systems like us due to the number of requirements that are placed on public providers,” said Pugh, who pointed out the privates would have to forgo religious curriculum as a requirement for public funding. “From a business model, if you are a private provider in some way, and you are already making more money with fewer expenses, why would you opt into a system that will require more government oversight?”
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Pugh said the school system is not in a crisis but is currently gauging the demand for pre-K programs in the spring. Legislative action to change the funding structure of school programs may help with implementation plans in the future.
The Blueprint plan for the next year and a half shows Anne Arundel is on target to meet the 10% salary increase by fiscal 2024, which starts July 1. The plan also requires each school system to meet $60,000 as a starting salary by fiscal 2027.
Anne Arundel County currently has the lowest starting salary at $50,347 for teachers in comparison to its neighboring counties: Baltimore City/County, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s, according to a recent report on the county school system’s workforce diversity.
In February, the Board of Education approved a $1.68 billion operating budget proposal that will provide a 6% cost-of-living adjustment for all employees.
The Blueprint plan outlines if the school system can apply a 5% COLA through fiscal 2026 and a 4% COLA for fiscal 2027, the starting salary will be $60,494; all budget requests, however, must be reviewed and approved by the county executive and the County Council before implementation.
The budget proposal has moved on to County Executive Steuart Pittman’s office for review as part of the fiscal 2024 deliberations this spring. The council will hold public hearings before finalizing a budget by June 15. The board is scheduled to adopt a final budget on June 26.