Maryland senators voted Wednesday to approve a two-year plan to send more than $700 million in extra funding to the state’s public schools.
The bill, called the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” now moves to the House of Delegates, where it is expected to move swiftly in the final days of the General Assembly session.
The Senate vote was 43-1.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, chairman of the Senate’s education committee, described the bill this week as a first step toward a decade’s worth of increased investment intended to improve the state’s school system.
“You should look at this as a short-term piece, focusing on the first year or two of implementation,” Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, told senators.
The bill calls for the state to spend an additional $355 million on public schools in fiscal year 2021, the budget year that will run from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.
It also calls for $370 million in fiscal 2022, plus an additional $130 million if the General Assembly passes laws that will bring in more revenue to the state.
The money would go primarily to three areas: increasing teacher pay, expanding prekindergarten and creating “community schools” in high-poverty areas. Community schools provide additional services for families, such as health care.
The part of the bill that provides money for teacher salaries requires local school districts to show that they are already increasing teacher pay by at least 3%. Those districts would get a state match of 1.5%, for a total boost in pay of 4.5% for teachers.
The programs are among those recommended by the Kirwan Commission, which has been reviewing the state’s education system and its funding for the past couple of years. The commission is named for its chairman, William “Brit” Kirwan, a former chancellor of the state university system.
The Kirwan Commission issued a lengthy report with scores of recommendations, but has not yet developed the related funding plan. Supporters said the bill under review would make a start toward paying for some of the recommendations.
Kirwan observed the debate this week from the Senate gallery. Following the vote, Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller recognized him. As senators applauded, Kirwan smiled and applauded back.
Sen. Andrew Serafini, a Washington County Republican, said the bill is “responsible.”
“It moves us in a good direction, and it’s funded,” he said.
Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said the bill is an important first step toward implementing the Kirwan Commission recommendations, which have the goal of transforming public education in the state.
“This blueprint starts us down this path,” said Ferguson, vice chairman of the Senate’s budget committee. “The message today is this is just a first step.”
The bill also includes one provision that wasn’t in the commission’s report: creating a state inspector general for education issues.
That’s been a priority of Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who has said there needs to be a way to investigate reports of waste, fraud and abuse in public schools. Lawmakers have not passed the governor’s bills to create an inspector general, but Pinsky said they used elements of the governor’s proposal in the Kirwan “blueprint” bill.
The inspector general would be selected by a majority vote of the governor, attorney general and treasurer.
The bill also requires that if the state collects more than $100 million per year in sales taxes from online companies, the extra money would go toward the Kirwan recommendations. A bill pending in the General Assembly would ensure that those websites collect and pay sales taxes, potentially increasing the state’s revenue.
The only vote against the bill came from Sen. Chris West, a Baltimore County Republican. West said he would have liked to support it, but he raised concerns that the Senate was passing the legislation at the expense of another bill that would have poured more than $2 billion into school construction projects across the state. That bill is stalled, and West said his county has schools in dire need of physical improvements.
“We desperately need money to work on our schools,” he said.
The House of Delegates is expected to quickly move the bill forward. The 90-day General Assembly session adjourns at midnight Monday.