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Legislation to boost school construction funding by $2.2 billion passes Maryland House of Delegates

Maryland’s House of Delegates has overwhelmingly passed legislation to boost funding of school construction projects across the state by $2.2 billion. In this file photo, construction was underway at Lyons Mill Elementary School in Owings Mills.
Maryland’s House of Delegates has overwhelmingly passed legislation to boost funding of school construction projects across the state by $2.2 billion. In this file photo, construction was underway at Lyons Mill Elementary School in Owings Mills.(Steve Ruark / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Maryland’s House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed legislation Friday to boost funding of school construction projects across the state by $2.2 billion.

The Built to Learn Act ― a priority of new House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones ― passed by a vote of 128-6 with all of the chamber’s Democrats and most Republicans supporting the measure. It’s designed to address the concerns of counties across Maryland that say they’re struggling to keep up with aging school buildings that are in desperate need of repair.

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“It’s telling how important this bill is to both sides of the aisle,” said Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, of the bipartisan vote.

The $2.2 billion would be distributed to counties over five years from bonds issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The bonds would be paid back over 30 years using $125 million a year in casino revenues set aside in a so-called “education lockbox.”

Most of the money would go the state’s most populous jurisdictions. Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Montgomery County would each receive $420 million; while Anne Arundel would get $250 million; Howard, $132 million; and Frederick, $102 million. Prince George’s County, under a special arrangement, would receive $25 million a year for 30 years.

All other counties would receive $230 million combined.

Six Republicans, mostly from rural counties, voted against the bill, arguing it was weighted too heavily in favor of larger jurisdictions.

“That just doesn’t seem fair," said Del. Matt Morgan, a Republican from St. Mary’s County. “We’ve had growth, too, and there’s need throughout the entire state of Maryland.”

But Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, noted that the money is in addition to current funds for school construction.

“What you see now is a backlog that is tremendous,” McIntosh said of school construction projects. “This really helps that backlog.”

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Democrats and Republicans are locked in a bitter fight over whether to back the so-called Kirwan Commission’s recommendations to increase school funding by $4 billion annually to pay for programs such as expanded prekindergarten. But there is little partisan struggle over the school construction measure.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has his own version of the buildings bill, has endorsed the measure backed by Democrats. McIntosh said she looked at Hogan’s school construction proposal last year and said: “We like the idea. This is a good idea.”

After the vote Friday, the governor’s press office sent an email with a “Bipartisanship Alert” that showed Hogan, Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, wearing cartoon construction hats.

“I want to commend members of the House of Delegates for embracing our landmark proposal to bring schools across our state into the 21st century, and for agreeing with us on the need to provide local school systems, and most importantly our students, with the healthy, efficient, heated and air conditioned, modern school buildings that they deserve," Hogan said in a statement.

The Senate will now take up the measure. It must pass both chambers before the governor can sign it into law.

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