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A Howard County state senator and two delegates have filed four bills ahead of the 2020 General Assembly session to address school redistricting in the county and that require homebuyers be made aware of redistricting.

The bills were introduced Monday by members of the Howard County delegation from District 12. The bills will be sponsored individually by state Sen. Clarence Lam, Del. Eric Ebersole and Del. Terri Hill, all Democrats. Lam, who is sponsoring two bills, released joint news releases Monday, one with Ebersole and the other with Hill.

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Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano presented a comprehensive redistricting proposal in August that recommended moving nearly 7,400 students to new schools. The proposal was designed to combat school overcrowding, address inequities in how students affected by poverty are distributed and establish a road map for the county’s 13th high school, in Jessup.

The school board will vote on a final plan Nov. 21, going into effect for the 2020-21 academic year. After hearing from hundreds of community members, students and parents the past two months, the school board held its first redistricting work session Oct. 17, where members voted to not move rising juniors next September.

Lam said he was motivated to introduce the bills by what he heard at the meetings.

“It has become clear from a lot of the hearings at the Board of Education that there’s a misconception that when a homeowner buys a home, that school [their neighborhood is assigned to] is permanent, and that is not the case,” Lam said.

One of Lam’s bills would add a disclaimer to the Howard County addendum at the time of closing for any property purchase. Part 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,” according to the senator’s news release Monday.

Homebuyers “should take into account that the school assignment could change at any time based on a school board decision,” Lam said.

Ebersole’s bill ties into Lam’s bill as it would prohibit advertising a specific school with any real estate or new residential construction in the county.

Not advertising schools “is sort of a policy or agreement by Realtors right now, but all don’t adhere to it,” Ebersole said in an interview.

He said the bill would prevent residents from being misled that the school district is guaranteed.

“People have thought they were locked into” their school districts when they bought their homes, so when redistricting occurs they are “shocked,” Ebersole said.

Lam’s other bill is aimed at reducing crowding in schools by requiring the county school board to initiate a redistricting process when a 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 at that time, it must provide the delegation with a plan on how it would address school capacity, according to Lam’s bill.

“I represent part of Howard County where students are going to Howard High School that is almost 140% over capacity, and you look at Glenelg High School is at 82% capacity,” Lam said. “I think it’s unacceptable that Howard High School is so overcrowded when there are empty seats elsewhere.”

Lam hopes the bill will help the county schools avoid capacity imbalance in the future and that the school board will address overcrowded schools “in a timely fashion.”

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Hill filed a bill to efficiently track the progress of “addressing academic achievement gaps based on socioeconomic and limited English proficiency disparities” in the county, according to her Monday news release.

The bill will look at the rates of children who participate in the school system’s free and reduced-price meals program, known as FARMS, a measure that was “highlighted as a priority” in Martirano’s proposal, according to the release.

If passed, Hill’s legislation would require the school board to submit an annual report on students who are “limited English proficient” or enrolled in FARMs. Every two years, the school board would have to report to the delegation on what had been done to reduce the academic disparities experienced by those two student populations.

The school board will report back both positive and negative results, Hill said in an interview. Additionally, the school board would be required to include plans on how it would reduce the disparities in the next two years.

The FARMs rate and students who take English as a Second Language “are a reason, if not the major influencers that are affecting our performance gaps,” Hill said.

The county, Hill said, needs to come up with ideas to address performance gaps within the school system.

“We’re all dedicated to all our kids to have access to a world class education,” Hill said.

The three legislators and District 12 Del. Jessica Feldmark, also a Democrat, commended Martirano on his proposal in a joint statement released last week, ahead of the school board’s first work session. They encouraged the school board to balance the priorities of addressing overcrowding and academic disparities while preparing for the county’s 13th high school.

The last day to file local bills ahead of the General Assembly session is Friday. A public hearing for all of Howard County’s local bills will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

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