Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced two proposals Thursday that he says will improve public education in the state by building new schools and providing opportunities for creativity in turning around low-rated schools.
“Education has been and will continue to be our administration’s highest priority because I believe very strongly that every single child in Maryland deserves a world-class education, regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in," Hogan, a Republican, said during a State House news conference.
K-12 education will be a major issue in the General Assembly session that will begin Jan. 8, with the legislature’s Democratic leaders pushing for funding for recommendations from the state’s Kirwan Commission and advocating for their own school construction bill.
Hogan said his proposals are not a counter to the commission’s recommendations, which would significantly boost education spending over the next decade.
“They really don’t have anything to do with one another,” he said.
Hogan wants low-rated public schools designated as “innovation schools” that would be given flexibility to develop a turnaround plan under close oversight. The proposal is called the “Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools Act," or the “CLASS Act.”
Schools that receive a one-star rating from the state for two consecutive years would qualify for the program. The state rating system gives schools one to five stars based on criteria such as student achievement on tests, attendance and whether students are offered a well-rounded curriculum.
“Local communities will be able to take charge of that school ... and put into place a turnaround plan,” Hogan said. He said the schools would be able to change their leadership, curriculum, schedules and budgets to improve student performance.
Hogan and state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon didn’t offer specifics on the turnaround plans at the news conference, but Hogan’s office later provided some details. Under the proposal, local school boards and school superintendents would appoint an “innovation plan committee” for each school in the program that would include parents, teachers and experts in finance, management and youth development. The committee would create a five-year plan for the school that would be discussed in public hearings and need the approval of the local school board.
Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said the governor’s proposal sounded like a program already in place to help struggling schools. Under the 2017 Protect Our Schools Act, schools that the state identifies as low-ranking are given leeway to change curriculum, leadership, class size and other factors as part of an improvement plan. The community has input into those plans, she said.
“What I heard today seems to be what we’re already doing,” Bost said.
Hogan’s office said that his plan is an improvement on the current program because it has “more autonomy and authority.” The administration did not provide further information.
Hogan also is proposing a “Building Opportunity Fund" that would issue bonds for school construction projects to be paid back using a portion of casino revenues dedicated to education.
Hogan’s proposal would generate $3.8 billion for school construction over five years, while the Democrats’ plan would generate $2.2 billion. Both plans would use $125 million each year from casino revenues to borrow and pay off the bonds.
It’s not clear how the Hogan administration would use the same source of money to generate more in construction funding. The Hogan administration did not immediately respond to questions about how the plan would work.
Still, the proposals are conceptually similar and could represent rare common ground between the Hogan administration and Democratic lawmakers.
“We are pleased that they are coming around on this issue,” Hogan said of the Democrats.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, who chairs the Senate’s education committee, said that if the governor has suggestions for improving education, he’d be better served by talking with lawmakers about the Kirwan recommendations.
“If he has some new ideas, I’d love to have him join us at the table and offer amendments as we go through the legislative process,” said Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat.
The commission has been studying how to improve Maryland’s public education system. To pay for higher salaries for teachers, expanded prekindergarten, support for high-poverty schools, improved career education and other reforms, it’s called for gradually increasing spending to $4 billion extra per year a decade from now.
The responsibility for spending the extra money would be borne jointly by the state government and local governments. Hogan has insisted the spending will result in tax increases for Maryland residents, and blasted the commission as the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.”
While Hogan insisted Thursday that his proposals are unrelated to the Kirwan recommendations, he told reporters the Kirwan plan would result in “crippling” tax increases.
“The simple question that nobody has been willing to answer at this point is, ‘What taxes they are going to raise?'" Hogan said.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who is in line to become the Senate president in January, struck a conciliatory tone in responding to Hogan’s proposals. In a statement, Ferguson noted that the Democrats and the governor “have common ground on the issue of school construction.”
“We have a unique moment to engage together to drive home a comprehensive plan for Maryland’s public education system,” Ferguson said. “I commend the governor for shifting the conversation about what’s possible for us to accomplish together.”
But House of Delegates leaders were skeptical.
“It is difficult to respond to slogans when there aren’t actual details behind them,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said in a statement.
“I am pleased, however, that the governor is finally engaging in a conversation about our public schools after three years of the Kirwan Commission meeting,” Jones said. “I will count that as progress.”
Del. Eric Luedtke, lead sponsor of the Protect Our Schools Act, said Hogan’s proposals fall short of the education reforms that are needed. He hopes the governor will come on board with the Kirwan Commission recommendations, also known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
“The real issue here is this is just one small piece,” said Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat. “We need a comprehensive fix for our schools, and that’s what the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is. This will not come anywhere near the improvement in our schools we would see from the blueprint.”