As the Maryland General Assembly convenes in Annapolis on Wednesday, starting its 2020 legislative session, a slew of education bills will be at the forefront of the Howard County delegation’s agenda.
Of the 15 Howard bills up for debate in the 2020 session, with an additional one in the drafting stages, eight deal with education, according to the delegation’s webpage.
Coming off the county’s contentious, recent school redistricting, four bills address the process in some fashion. Other education bills focus on public campaign financing, reporting school data and school capacity.
Howard delegation bills outside of education include prohibiting developers from contributing money to members of the County Council, the county executive or a mix of the two when they have zoning applications; prohibiting developers from having the option to pay a fee in lieu of providing affordable housing; and establishing protocols around hiring county alcoholic beverage inspectors.
Local bills are often decided among the members of the county delegation. If approved, they advance to various committees and subcommittees, then to the House and Senate floors.
Legislators often grant “local courtesy” to bills that affect only the county where they are proposed, but some can nevertheless run into opposition, particularly if they might set a precedent that other jurisdictions would be compelled to follow.
Democrats Sen. Clarence Lam and Del. Vanessa Atterbeary are Howard’s delegation chairs.
Here’s a look at some of the local education legislation to be considered this session:
After months of protests, public hearings and work sessions, the Howard Board of Education approved a redistricting plan in November to move more than 5,400 students to different schools in an effort to balance socioeconomic levels and school capacity.
Exactly a month before the final vote, Lam and Del. Eric Ebersole, also a Democrat, filed complementing bills touching upon elements of the redistricting debate, with a focus on explicitly stating that a child’s assigned schools will not necessarily be based on a home’s location.
Lam’s bill looks to add a disclaimer to the Howard County addendum at the time of closing for any property purchase. A portion of the disclaimer would read:
“By signing this addendum, the Buyer acknowledges that the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) schools designated for this property are subject to change at any time. The Buyer has no assurance that the current HCPSS school assignments for this property (commonly known as the school district) will remain in effect for any period of time.”
Ebersole’s bill would prohibit advertising a specific school with any real estate or new residential construction in the county. In an October interview, Ebersole said the bill would prevent residents from being misled that the school district is guaranteed.
Lam filed legislation focused on the school system’s capacity numbers. Atterbeary filed a bill looking to monitor capacity numbers.
Aimed at reducing crowding in schools, Lam’s bill would require the school board to initiate a redistricting process when any school’s capacity falls out of the board’s target utilization policy of 90% to 110%. If the school board does not want to redistrict, the delegation would require the board to create a plan to address school capacity.
If passed, Atterbeary’s legislation would require the school board to annually calculate the capacity for all primary and secondary schools, prohibiting a school from enrolling additional students if its capacity is greater than 115%.
Atterbeary’s bill defines a given school’s capacity as “the number of students that can be reasonably accommodated in a school … excluding relocatable classrooms.”
Under her bill, the county Department of Planning and Zoning could reject approval of a potential residential project development if it would place any nearby schools over 115% capacity.
Annual reports, data collections
Three bills look to hold the school system more accountable by requiring reports from the school board focusing on academic disparities, student and staff demographics, and deferred maintenance.
Del. Terri Hill, a Democrat, filed legislation to require the school board to submit an annual report on students who are “limited English proficient” or enrolled in the school system’s free and reduced-price meals program, known as FARMs. The report, to be submitted to the delegation, would track the progress of programs addressing academic achievement gaps through limited English proficiency and socioeconomic disparities.
Besides an annual report, the school board would have to report every two years on what had been done to reduce the academic disparities experienced by those two student populations. If passed, schools would also be required to include plans to reduce disparities in the following two years.
Legislation filed by Del. Jessica Feldmark aims to collect a plethora of information, from student chronic absenteeism data to teacher diversity and teacher experience, broken down by general education, special education, academic subject and grade level.
The Democrat’s lengthy bill would require reports of incidents of bias or hate crimes, including bullying, harassment or intimidation; students who receive special education services; student demographics; prekindergarten enrollment numbers; and graduation rates.
An inaugural report would be submitted to the Maryland State Department of Education, the County Council, the county executive and the delegation Dec. 1, 2021, and each following December.
Atterbeary also filed a bill to require the school board to address deferred maintenance in the school system by submitting a report in October to the delegation, county executive and County Council.
If passed, Atterbeary’s bill would allow the council to impose an excise tax on any commercial building construction in the county. The tax would directly address the school system’s deferred maintenance needs.
Another bill filed by Lam would allow the County Council, by law, to establish a public campaign financing system for the school board.
Members of Howard’s delegation also include Democratic Sens. Guy Guzzone and Katie Fry Hester, Dels. Jen Terrasa, Shane Pendergrass and Courtney Watson, and Republican Dels. Trent Kittleman and Warren Miller.