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Ambitious education plan moves forward in Maryland House of Delegates

From left, Doug Mowbray, Nayeli Garcia Mowbray, Rebecca Yenawine, Pamela Boozer-Strother and Elle Irby join the hundreds of supporters of the Kirwan education bill who descended on Annapolis for a marathon joint hearing on the legislation last month.
From left, Doug Mowbray, Nayeli Garcia Mowbray, Rebecca Yenawine, Pamela Boozer-Strother and Elle Irby join the hundreds of supporters of the Kirwan education bill who descended on Annapolis for a marathon joint hearing on the legislation last month.(Amy Davis)

The Maryland House of Delegates is on track to approve a sweeping overhaul of public education by the end of the week.

The bill would adjust the state’s funding formulas for public schools and expand programs such as career- and college-prep for high schoolers, prekindergarten for low-income children and services for schools in impoverished neighborhoods. It also would boost teacher training and pay.

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The recommendations came from the Kirwan Commission, which spent three years studying how to improve the state’s public schools. The commission is named for its chairman, William “Brit” Kirwan, an educator and former chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

The programs would be phased in over 10 years, and by 2030 would cost an estimated $4 billion more per year than current spending on schools. That would be split between the state government and local governments.

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Two House of Delegates committees made some changes to the bill this week, including an adjustment to the funding requirements so that Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and a few other jurisdictions wouldn’t have to pay as much as originally estimated.

The changes take into account how much more money a local jurisdiction would be expected to pay compared with its wealth. Jurisdictions that have a high expected contribution combined with lower wealth would be eligible for more state money, lowering the local burden. Officials in Baltimore and Prince George’s have expressed optimism about the adjustment.

Educators are determined to provide resources for after-school programs with the help of Kirwan funds. But they face an uphill battle.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said she hoped the bill would be passed by Saturday at the latest.

During subcommittee and committee votes this week, Republican delegates voted against the bill, leading McIntosh to believe that the full House vote could break down along party lines. Democrats hold more than two-thirds of seats in the House.

“I would anticipate it will be a partisan vote,” McIntosh said.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has repeatedly railed against the Kirwan Commission and Democratic lawmakers’ push for the commission’s plans. He has said some of the education policy ideas may be well-intended, but that it’s fiscally irresponsible to push forward an expensive plan with no means to pay for it.

Hogan also has blasted separate proposals to raise money that lawmakers are considering, such as expanding the state sales tax to include professional services, a notion resisted by many in those businesses.

On his social media accounts Tuesday, Hogan criticized the legislature’s changes to the bill and said lawmakers went “behind closed doors” and “hatched” the adjustments to help Baltimore and Prince George’s.

“Their plan is to force through amendments that require putting state taxpayers on the hook for even more of the Kirwan plan’s massive tax burden,” he wrote.

Those amendments were discussed and voted on during open meetings of the subcommittees and committees.

If the House of Delegates approves the education bill, it also would need approval by the state Senate before being sent to Hogan for his consideration.

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