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Maryland House GOP bill seeks to use state funds to send students to private school if public schools don’t reopen by fall

The Maryland House of Delegates’s Republican Caucus shared a slate of educational bills it plans to introduce aiming to lessen the burdens of virtual learning, increase support for special needs students and redirect state education dollars to allow parents to send their children to private schools if public schools do not reopen by fall.

At a Thursday news conference held via Zoom, Republican House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, representing Anne Arundel County, said the caucus fully supports Gov. Larry Hogan’s push to return students to school.

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“Our number one priority is to get Maryland students back into the classroom as soon as possible,” Kipke said. “There is really no reason why we can not get our kids back into the classroom immediately.”

Del. Lauren Arikan, who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties, said hybrid models of schooling are untenable for teachers and that the state has let down its most vulnerable students with its pivot to virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill she presented, called the “Real Money for Real Education Act” would allow parents to spend state funding to send their children to private schools if their public school district has not fully reopened by the fall semester.

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“Any district that fails to fully reopen by the fall 2021 semester, parents in that district will be able to take the state’s portion of the per-pupil funding and then spend that money at the private or parochial school of their choice,” she said.

Arikan, who plans to introduce the bill Friday, said she was unsure of the number of parents who might choose such an option if the legislation were passed. Kipke said he hoped the bill would not be necessary and schools would reopen before the fall 2021 semester.

According to the Department of Legislative Services, the cost would amount to about $7,000 per student.

Del. Brenda Thiam, representing Washington County, presented a bill that would help parents offset the costs of at-home learning such as internet bills, expanded child care needs, higher energy costs and higher food costs. Called the “Learning at Home Relief Act,” the legislation would provide a $250 per child tax credit to lessen the costs of virtual learning for Maryland families.

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“While costs are going up, many families have had to reduce work time or even quit their jobs entirely in order to supervise their child’s education,” she said. “Maryland families need a break.”

Del. Mike Griffith, representing parts of Harford and Cecil counties, presented two bills aimed at increasing aid to students with special needs.

The first bill, called the Education Equality for all Act, would make closed schools provide funding and information to parents of students with special needs so they can get an outside evaluation of their student, which influences that student’s Individualized Education Program.

Griffith’s second bill, the Vulnerable Student Protection Act, would make schools provide special education, behavioral health, counseling and nutritional services, among others, on an in-person basis to at-risk students. Those services would also be extended to homeless, disabled, foster care and economically disadvantaged students, Griffith said.

“This issue should transcend all the political division we have been experiencing,” Griffith said.

Chair of the Ways and Means Committee Anne Kaiser, a Montgomery County Democrat, said she had not seen the bills and was unable to comment on them, but noted that house Republican are in the minority and their efforts would require bipartisan support.

House majority leader Eric Luedtke and did not reply to questions about the legislation in time for the publication of this article.

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