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Hogan announces plan to spend $3.5 billion on Maryland school construction, balks at estimated Kirwan costs

Governor Larry Hogan visits Highland Park Elementary School in Landover to announce a plan to fund $3.5 billion in school construction projects across the state. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a plan Tuesday to fund $3.5 billion in school construction projects across the state, thanks in part to a new constitutional amendment that forces the addition of casino revenue to school funding.

Hogan plans to submit legislation during the 2019 General Assembly session that would add $1.9 billion in new school construction projects over five years. That funding would be in addition to the $1.6 billion in public school construction funding currently included in the state’s five-year capital budget.

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“This represents the largest investment in school construction ever in Maryland history,” Hogan said.

While announcing the plans for new capital funds, however, Hogan said he believed a preliminary price tag of recommendations from a General Assembly commission studying school funding for classroom expenses was too high.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is considering recommending a phased-in annual increase of $4.4 billion for operating schools in Maryland. But Hogan said spending tens of billions more over the next decade on school operations could not be done without raising taxes — which he pledged not to do.

The administration has not yet released a list of schools that would receive the capital funding under Hogan’s construction plan, but the governor said the money would cover “more than 90 percent of the projects requested by local school systems from 2020 to 2024.” Specific funds would be distributed and approved through votes of the state Board of Public Works.

The governor’s office said the projects would result in an estimated 27,000 jobs.

The governor made the announcement of the planned Building Opportunity Fund at Highland Park Elementary School in Landover.

Joining Hogan was new Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who said new buildings tell school children “how valuable they are to us.”

“Prince George’s County and all of our jurisdictions across Maryland will have extra funding to help schools over the next five years,” she said.

The legislation would give the Maryland Stadium Authority oversight of these additional school construction funds, and include accountability measures, according to the governor’s office.

“Just investing record amounts of money doesn’t necessarily solve all of the problems we have in education,” Hogan said. “We invested $25 billion in K-12 education and yet the state has very little control over how that’s spent. … We want to ensure those dollars are getting into the classroom, they’re not being wasted and we don’t have corruption and mismanagement.”

The new funding would come from revenue bonds funded by casino gaming revenues. In November, nearly 90 percent of voters supported a constitutional amendment to direct revenue from Maryland’s casinos to supplement existing education funding after The Baltimore Sun reported casino dollars had not gone to bolster school budgets more than what the state already was required to spend.

Hogan and Democratic lawmakers both pushed to dedicate more money for schools, and the amendment — created by Democratic leaders — means an additional $4.4 billion will go to school funding over 10 years.

The new legislation is modeled after Baltimore’s 21st Century School Buildings Program, which funded the opening of five newly renovated buildings this year.

Karen Salmon, the state’s superintendent of schools, said the new fund would create “healthy, modern and efficient schools” that will cover almost all existing building requests.

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Unlike Hogan’s plan for capital spending, the recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (also called the Kirwan Commission) include offering full-day education for 3-year-olds from low-income households; universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds; increased funding for schools where many students live in concentrated poverty, and raises for teachers.

Hogan expressed concern Tuesday over the ultimate cost of the commission’s recommendations.

“No, we cannot afford that,” the governor said. “They have not come up with any suggestions for where the additional revenue would come from. ... No, we’re not going to raise any of those taxes.”

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, commended Hogan for his school construction proposal. But, Ferguson said, he hoped the governor would show the same commitment to improving educational outcomes for students.

“My one concern this afternoon is that we cannot make this an ‘either/or’ choice — either more equitable funding formulas or school construction,” Ferguson wrote in a Facebook post. “Great buildings are essential, but they are not sufficient. What happens inside a building is as important — if not more important — than the quality of the building itself. We must be able to tackle our infrastructure problems while also creating a more equitable and more excellent system of free public schools.”

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