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Education

Blueprint for Maryland’s Future: Inside the state’s massive plan to reform public education

Late House Speaker Michael Busch and other leading Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly discuss legislation that includes a blueprint with a 10-year plan to improve education in the state during a news conference March 5, 2019, in Annapolis.

The challenge of rolling out the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the state’s landmark public school reform plan, will grip the attention of education leaders for years to come.

The far-reaching plan became law in 2021, kicking off an enormous effort across multiple state departments, agencies and 24 public school systems that will take a generation of students to complete. Officials leading the endeavor forecast that its effects might not be fully apparent until the cohort of students entering prekindergarten in fall 2022 graduate from high school in 2036.

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Some of the plan’s architects say other states should be studying what’s about to happen in Maryland. Even as the plan looms large for politicians, nonprofits and education advocates, it has drawn little attention or understanding from the public it seeks to serve.

So what does the Blueprint aim to do? And what can families expect from public education in the coming years?

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Here’s everything you need to know about the long-term strategy for overhauling Maryland public schools.

How did the Blueprint become law?

Maryland’s constitution requires the General Assembly to establish a “thorough and efficient” public education system. Schools are typically funded through a combination of state and local tax revenues.

In 2016, the legislature and governor established the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, a panel of more than 20 legislators, educators, businesspeople and local leaders. The commission, nicknamed for its chairman, former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, was charged with rewriting the education funding formula that the state had used for about two decades.

It also was directed to develop a set of policies and practices that would allow Maryland’s schools to perform at the level of the world’s best systems and to prepare students for careers and college in the 21st century.

The commission and its working groups studied the best practices of top-performing school systems in nations such as Finland, Singapore, Canada and China, as well as in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

At the time, Maryland students were typically performing at or below the median among the 50 states in reading and math. The state also was facing large achievement gaps based on race and income, a severe teacher shortage and retention problems. And only about 40% of high school graduates met the state’s own standards for college and career readiness.

With that in mind, the “Kirwan” commission produced a 243-page report detailing three dozen major recommendations to reform the state’s schools. The commission estimated that it would cost an additional $4 billion — about $2.8 billion from the state and $1.2 billion from local governments — to implement all of the recommendations over the following decade.

Lawmakers voted to enact the Blueprint in 2020, but the bill was vetoed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, citing cost and the fiscal impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The following year, the legislature overrode Hogan’s veto, and the Blueprint became law in March 2021.

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The state is slated to send an additional $3.9 billion, representing a 45% increase, to schools by fiscal year 2034, with local governments investing at least $700 million, representing an 8% increase.

What’s in the Blueprint?

The Blueprint is designed to reform Maryland’s early childhood, elementary and secondary schools so every student — regardless of geography, household income, race, ethnicity, gender, language spoken at home, special needs or other characteristics — will graduate ready to enter the workforce or higher education.

The 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.

Members of Strong Schools Maryland, including Deputy Director Shamoyia Gardiner, from right, and Executive Director Joe Francaviglia, take down their displays after a rally at the State House on Jan. 13, 2021, to urge lawmakers to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of the Blueprint for Maryland's Future.

Each pillar outlines a list of critical policy changes. Some examples include expanded prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income households, salary boosts and professional development incentives for teachers, and intensive interventions for students who are not considered college- or career-ready by the end of the 10th grade.

A comprehensive plan for implementing the Blueprint, along with timelines, objectives and measures of success, is available for the public to review on the state’s Accountability and Implementation Board website.

These entities are also responsible for creating their own Blueprint implementation plans:

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  • State Board of Education and the Maryland State Department of Education.
  • Governor’s Workforce Development Board and the Career and Technical Education Committee.
  • Maryland Higher Education Commission.
  • Higher education institutions, including community colleges and universities.
  • Local school systems and boards of education.
  • Juvenile Services Education Board.
  • Teacher preparation programs.
  • Local workforce development boards.

Who enforces the Blueprint law?

With the passage of the Blueprint legislation in 2021, the General Assembly also created a seven-person entity called the Accountability and Implementation Board. Members are granted an enormous amount of power under the law to enforce the Blueprint until their authority dissolves June 30, 2032.

As an independent unit of the state government, the AIB is charged with holding both state entities and local governments accountable and may withhold funding if implementation is not carried out to their satisfaction.

The board is chaired by former Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat, with Kirwan holding the vice chair position. Other members include Mara Doss, a former administrator for Prince George’s Community College; Jennifer Lynch, educational liaison for the Baltimore County executive; Joseph Manko, a former Baltimore City school principal and current program officer for the Abell Foundation; and Laura Stapleton, a department chair at the University of Maryland, College Park’s College of Education.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, recently named Accountability and Implementation Board member and Baltimore Corps executive Fagan Harris as his chief of staff, creating a vacancy on the board. A nominating committee will recommend a slate of candidates to the governor, who will send a single name to the Maryland Senate for final approval. Board terms typically last six years.

What can Marylanders expect from the Blueprint in 2023?

The newly sworn-in Moore unveiled his budget proposal Friday with a pledge that “this is going to be Maryland’s decade.” The Democratic governor’s proposal contributes an additional $500 million of general fund cash to fund the Blueprint above what is already required through the plan’s existing funding formulas.

The state anticipates generating $1.5 billion annually in special revenues, from sources such as sports betting, to support the Blueprint plan, but that money is expected to decrease by 2027, said secretary of budget and management Helene Grady at a news conference Friday. The additional $500 million is aimed at “shoring up” funding for the educational reform and could buy the state another year to balance the budget, she said.

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“This work is critically overdue because too many of our students are trapped right now in a system that chronically fails them, fails their families,” Moore said.

He criticized his predecessor Larry Hogan, a Republican, for lack of support that he said hobbled the Blueprint’s implementation.

Some education advocates took issue last year with Hogan’s initial budget proposal for 2023, which omitted funding for part of the Blueprint’s formula that sent extra money to school districts like Baltimore City and Prince George’s County with high concentrations of poor students. That funding was added back into the budget proposal later in the session.

Moore’s budget proposal also increases per pupil spending by 9% and increases funding to support low-income students by 32%. It earmarks $15 million for teacher recruitment incentives. And it proposes about $1.1 billion for public school construction, less than the $1.2 billion that was included in the final budget last year.

Some local school systems already have warned the Accountability and Implementation Board of potential hurdles they might face in carrying out the Blueprint. For example, districts have called for more capital funding to expand the physical footprint of schools so they may accommodate prekindergarten seats for 3- and 4-year-olds as required by the Blueprint.

During the legislative session, the board is expected to recommend at least one technical correction to the funding formula for full-day prekindergarten to include children who receive special education services, are English language learners or are experiencing homelessness, regardless of whether they meet the income eligibility. The law gives priority to children in these categories, but their omission from the formula is believed to be an oversight, Hise told board members at a meeting Jan. 12.

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The Accountability and Implementation Board also could request more adjustments to the Blueprint’s timelines and funding in the coming months. State and local entities that fall under the Blueprint’s purview must each submit their plans for implementation to the board by March 15.


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