Despite having “significant reservations” about a bill that will send hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding to Maryland public school classrooms, Gov. Larry Hogan will allow it to become law without his signature.
The bill, dubbed the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” will direct $850 million in extra state spending to public schools over the next two years. The money will start flowing to the schools in July 2020.
In a letter sent to legislative leaders Wednesday afternoon, Hogan said he is concerned that the bill doesn’t include a long-term funding solution for public school improvement and lacks sufficient “academic accountability” to make sure the extra spending results in academic gains.
“While Marylanders are crying out for better outcomes, they are also demanding that local school administrators be held accountable for billions of state taxpayer dollars handed to them,” Hogan, a Republican, wrote to state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones, both Democrats.
Hogan was in Kentucky on Wednesday for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association
Miller and Jones responded in a letter to Hogan that they were disappointed that he refused to sign the bill into law.
They dismissed Hogan’s concerns that the spending plan wasn’t funded, noting that there is money in the budget for the two-year plan. They invited Hogan to appear before a commission that’s studying education to offer his ideas for a long-term funding plan.
“We are heartened to see your Administration’s concern about making certain the Blueprint is fully funded, and we ask that you join our efforts to find a path forward on this issue,” Miller and Jones wrote.
The education funding bill is intended as a first step toward massive education reforms being developed by a commission that’s been studying how to best improve Maryland schools.
The extra money will help pay for some of the needs identified by the commission: increasing teacher pay, expanding prekindergarten and creating “community schools” in high-poverty areas. Community schools provide additional services to students and their families, such as health care.
The group — known as the Kirwan Commission for its chairman, William “Brit” Kirwan, a former chancellor of the state’s university system — has suggested the state needs to funnel billions more into public schools over the next decade. Commission members are still working to figure out how to pay for the extra funding on a long-term basis.
Kirwan took an intense interest in the “blueprint” bill, meeting with lawmakers to advocate for it and observing floor debates from the public galleries in the State House. Proponents of the bill said it was an important measure to get the state moving forward on revamping instruction in public schools. It won near-unanimous support in the state Senate, but passed the House of Delegates with many Republicans opposed.
The Maryland State Education Association, the union representing school teachers, made the Kirwan funding a focus of its advocacy efforts during this year’s General Assembly session. The union brought thousands of members, students and supporters wearing “red for ed” to Annapolis for one of the largest rallies in the state capital in recent years.
Cheryl Bost, president of the teachers’ union, said in a statement that, while she was surprised that Hogan did not sign the bill, teachers are nonetheless pleased that it will become law. She praised lawmakers for giving it bipartisan support.
Bost said the law will “immediately help improve education across the state.”
But Bost cautioned that the Kirwan “blueprint” bill is only a start. She said teachers will work with the governor, lawmakers and members of the Kirwan Commission on a long-term plan to “close our multi-billion dollar school funding gap.”
“We must remember that every year that goes by without passing a new funding formula is another class of students that moves through underfunded schools,” Bost said.
Some have questioned the wisdom of funneling more and more money to schools without making sure it results in academic improvements.
The bill is “the latest chapter in the General Assembly’s practice of spending billions of dollars first and asking questions later,” said Christopher B. Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.
The bill also requires the state to hire an inspector general to investigate complaints of waste and fraud in local school districts — adopting an idea that had long been promoted by the governor. The inspector general would be selected by a unanimous vote of the governor, state treasurer and attorney general.
Hogan wrote in his letter that the inclusion of the inspector general for education was “encouraging,” but that alone is not enough to make sure that tax dollars sent to schools are properly spent.
Hogan concluded his letter by saying that he looks forward to working with lawmakers “to develop a fiscally responsible proposal that both increases accountability and improves performance outcomes.”
The Maryland governor has three choices when presented bills passed by the General Assembly: veto, sign into law or allow to automatically become law without a signature. Hogan has used the option of not signing bills as a way to express concern or disagreement with bills, without going so far as vetoing them.