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Education

Maryland’s $3.8 billion ‘Blueprint’ plan for educational reform hits early funding, timeline snags

The sweeping 10-year plan to overhaul the state’s educational system known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is hitting delays and experiencing funding disputes as state leaders begin to roll it out.

A year has passed since the Maryland General Assembly overrode the governor’s veto to enact the Blueprint — an ambitious plan with a $3.8 billion annual price tag that seeks to reform state education over the next decade. The Blueprint is expected to bring significant changes to Maryland schools and to the myriad of programs, agencies and institutions that interact with students.

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State leaders and education advocates say that if the plan is successful, Maryland students will rank among the best in the world. But timeline delays and disputes over the amount of mandated funding have hampered the Blueprint’s first steps.

A seven-member Accountability and Implementation Board — an oversight panel charged with carrying out and enforcing the Blueprint — was expected to convene in July but didn’t begin meeting until November. The board voted unanimously Monday to adopt a new set of timelines that account for the late start by giving Maryland State Department of Education, local school systems and the board itself the summer to work on key plans.

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So far the board has received $1.35 million out of the $4.8 million promised in the plan.

That’s because in 2021 the state’s budget still was being set as the legislature considered whether to override the Blueprint veto, meaning the $4.8 million didn’t make it into this year’s budget, said Rachel Hise, the board’s executive director and lone employee.

The General Assembly later sought to remedy the funding shortfall by appropriating funds from the state’s sports betting revenues. Those funds arrive to the state on a quarterly basis, which is why the board has not received the full amount yet.

The governor’s state budget proposal for the coming year does include the full $4.8 million as envisioned in the law. In the meantime, the board expects more funding to arrive in the state’s fiscal fourth quarter, which spans April through June.

The board sent a letter Wednesday to the governor, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, stating officials were concerned the sports betting funds would come too late in the fiscal year to spend.

“The [board] will not be able to encumber it all and potentially a significant portion will revert at the end of the fiscal year,” the letter states.

And other Blueprint programs that receive sports betting revenues will be in a similar situation. Some of those key programs, such as the expert review teams and career and technical education committee, are not expecting an appropriation in next year’s budget.

The board’s letter asks that the governor and General Assembly allow the funds to carry into next year’s budget for the board and other Blueprint programs.

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“The amount of funding available for the [board] right now is fine, it’s enough,” Hise said.

The greater concern, she said, is being able to roll over the funding into next year’s budget.

“There are many, many things that these funds are needed for that just aren’t going to be ready to go by end of fiscal year,” Hise said.

More portions of the Blueprint’s funding also are on hold. Some education advocates cried foul when Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget proposal for 2023 didn’t fund a part of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future formula that would provide extra money to school districts with high concentrations of poor students. That funding, referred to as the Education Effort Adjustment, would provide $99 million for Baltimore City and more than $26 million for Prince George’s County to fund Blueprint programs or initiatives in the upcoming year.

The governor’s office does not believe the Education Effort Adjustment is mandated by law.

Hogan’s stance places him at odds with education advocates who say that interpretation is not what legislators intended. The funds, they say, are meant to offset the cost to the state’s poorest jurisdictions in the first year of the Blueprint’s rollout.

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The Accountability and Implementation Board is not taking a position on the funding question, but believes the legislature intended to fund the program.

Hogan’s budget allocates $8.15 billion for K-12 education, said spokesman Mike Ricci in an email.

The Hogan administration is concerned the General Assembly will “set a bad precedent for the stability of the funding since it relies on data that does not exist, and is a moving target,” Ricci said.

State budget officials received no response from the legislature, Ricci said, after asking for specific datasets that were necessary to calculate funding levels.

“This lends credence to the notion that [the Department of Legislative Services] used a projection rather than hard data, since some data points do not exist,” Ricci said. “A projection is not a mandate.”

“We anticipate that all of the necessary data will exist for this to become a mandate in FY24,” he said.

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Hogan’s budget ultimately requires approval from the state Senate and House of Delegates. In the meantime, the dispute has been referred to the Office of the Attorney General for advice and resolution, according to the board’s letter.

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The Maryland Attorney General’s Office, which generally acts as legal advisor to the state, declined to comment on whether it had been asked to give an opinion on the matter.

The Maryland Alliance for Racial Equity in Education says that despite the state having a surplus, Hogan chose to withhold promised funding from the two counties with large populations of students of color.

“Districts that educate Black and brown students are historically underfunded and expected to do more with less,” said sharlimar douglass, the organization’s chair, who does not capitalize the letters in her name. “This omission is steeped in racial inequity.”

And advocates with Strong Schools Maryland, a grassroots group that supports the Blueprint plan, say that the Education Effort Adjustment could send money to a number of jurisdictions in coming years. By omitting funding for that provision in the Blueprint’s very first year, they say the governor is setting a bad precedent that eventually could impact many jurisdictions negatively.

“We’re really trying to get a world class system of education that’s producing all of the outcomes envisioned by the Blueprint,” said Shamoyia Gardiner, executive director of Strong Schools Maryland. “The governor’s not really setting us up to achieve that. We’re really hoping that the governor will come to his senses.”

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According to the Accountability and Implementation Board’s new timeline, the board expects to draft and finalize a comprehensive implementation plan by Dec. 1. The law’s original deadline for such a plan was Tuesday.

The letter goes on to say the board plans to hire four permanent positions when the state budget is enacted in April and 10 more positions in July.

For the record

This article has been updated to clarify the position of the Accountability and Implementation Board on whether state law mandates the Education Effort Adjustment for the upcoming budget year. The board believes the legislature intended the adjustment to be funded.


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