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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks earlier this month during a State House news conference. He announced Friday that he intends to put more state money into expanding prekindergarten and offering more services at high-poverty schools.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks earlier this month during a State House news conference. He announced Friday that he intends to put more state money into expanding prekindergarten and offering more services at high-poverty schools. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced his plans Friday for increased funding for public schools for the next two years, almost all of it money that state law requires him to spend on education.

Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement that he plans to spend $130 million over the next two years to fund an expansion of prekindergarten and for “concentration of poverty” grants that would pay for health professionals and community coordinators in schools with high numbers of students from poor families.

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Maryland’s Democratic-led legislature approved a bill earlier this year called the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” that requires additional spending on those two programs, as well as others, for three years. Hogan allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

“Last session, the Maryland Senate unanimously passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, and I am pleased to see it being implemented,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, the incoming Senate president, in a statement responding to the governor’s announcement.

The governor’s staff explained that the Blueprint bill dictates exactly how most of the additional education money is to be spent, but some of it is not allocated to specific programs. Hogan is choosing to spend some of that unallocated money on preschool and the poverty grants, said Mike Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman.

“With this funding, we are reaffirming our commitment to provide increased investment for our schools, more accountability for Maryland parents, teachers and taxpayers, and most importantly, better results for our children,” Hogan said in his statement.

Del. Eric Luedtke the majority leader for Democrats in the House of Delegates, suggested the governor is promoting his plan as more expansive than it is.

“I’m glad the governor is spending the money we mandated he spend,” said Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat. “The idea that this is going to do much to address the deep-seated problems we have in a lot of our schools is laughable. It is one small piece of a much bigger issue.”

Ricci defended the governor’s proposal.

“The governor’s job is to submit a budget that sets priorities,” Ricci said. “Mr. Luedtke seems to resent the fact that the governor is setting Pre-K and Concentration of Poverty Grants as priorities. It’s a debate we certainly welcome.”

The only portion of the governor’s plan that would be new funding is a bill to spend $1 million to cover the costs of Advanced Placement testing for high school students. The money would pay for 25,000 AP exams. The governor’s office did not offer further details on which students would qualify for the free AP tests.

The governor’s plans fall short of the sweeping education reforms recommended by the state’s Kirwan Commission, which has studied how to improve Maryland’s public schools. Its recommendations include a variety of programs in addition to the prekindergarten and poverty grants, such as increasing teacher pay and training, improving career readiness for high school students and reworking the formulas that dictate how much the state and counties spend on schools.

The commission’s recommendations come with a large price tag: By the time they would be phased in 10 years from now, the state would be spending $2.8 billion more per year and local governments would be spending $1.2 billion per year, for a total of $4 billion in additional education spending.

Hogan has blasted the panel, calling it the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission” and insisting that the only way to pay for the additional spending is significant, across-the-board tax increases.

Democratic lawmakers have said they intend to endorse the Kirwan recommendations and find sources of money to help pay for them during the 2020 General Assembly session.

In the 2019 session, lawmakers passed the “Blueprint” bill as a way of kick-starting some of the Kirwan proposals.

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Hogan announced other education proposals last week. He said he would sponsor a bill that would pay for more school construction projects by issuing bonds that would be paid off using a portion of casino revenues dedicated to education. Democratic lawmakers have put forward a similar proposal.

And Hogan is promoting a new program for turning around low-rated public schools called the “CLASS Act,” which stands for the "Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools Act.” Under the program, poorly performing schools would be designated as “innovation schools” and receive flexibility to develop an improvement plan, under close oversight. Education advocates said the state already has a similar program for low-performing schools.

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