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Maryland Gov. Hogan: Lack of air conditioning in some Baltimore schools is ‘unbelievable’

Frustrated that some Baltimore public school students were sent home early on the first day of class due to hot weather, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan blasted city and school leaders on Wednesday for not ensuring all buildings are fully air-conditioned.

The lack of air conditioning is “unbelievable,” the Republican governor said Wednesday.

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On the first day of classes Monday, students were dismissed early from 24 city schools due to the heat, including 21 without air conditioning and three with units that need repair.

Hogan ticked through efforts to send money to city schools for air conditioning and ventilation work and claimed that “the work was not actually completed.”

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“Protecting students from the sweltering heat is critically important and city leaders have continued to fail in this regard,” Hogan said at the start of a meeting of the Board of Public Works, which oversees state spending.

Hogan said having proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are even more important as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Public health experts have said improving ventilation and air flow can reduce the risk of virus transmission, Hogan said.

Baltimore City Public Schools shot back in a statement, saying that the governor had approved the system’s plans to add air conditioning to all buildings by the 2022-2023 school year as long as state funding is available.

“City Schools is on track to meet that goal,” the statement said. “There would be no plan and and five-year timeline if the governor did not approve it first, yet he continually denies his role.”

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Baltimore City and Baltimore County drew up plans for expanding air conditioning in 2017, after Hogan threatened to withhold millions of dollars in school renovation funding from the city and county. Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot had battled publicly for months with city and county leaders over the air conditioning issues.

The city school system’s statement said the number of schools without air conditioning has been reduced from 75 schools in 2017 to 21 schools today, which it qualifies as successful progress.

“If the governor is criticizing the plan, then he cannot dismiss his role in making it a reality. He approved our air conditioning plan in 2017,” the statement said. “City Schools is accountable to the community for implementing the plan the governor supported, and we are making progress on the plan.”

Franchot, also a Board of Public Works member, also criticized Baltimore schools, saying he was “unbelievably disheartened” by the early school dismissals. He said there’s not a lack of money, but a lack of “political will.”

“It’s local political hubris standing in the way of what we need to do for our kids,” said Franchot, a Democrat who is also running for governor.

Hogan said he’s directing the state schools superintendent and the state agency that oversees school construction to produce a district-by-district report on the use of state money for heating, air conditioning and ventilation projects.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who also sits on the Board of Public Works, said that while it’s good to have an accounting of how the money used, there has been significant progress in air conditioning schools.

“There are still some to go, but of course the five years aren’t over yet, either,” said Kopp, a Democrat.

In 2020, Maryland lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the “Built to Learn Act,” which will ultimately send $2.2 billion more to school districts for construction and renovation projects — on top of already-planned spending. The goal is to help schools catch up with backlogged maintenance needs.

But the implementation of the Built to Learn plan was delayed because Hogan vetoed a companion education reform bill. Lawmakers overrode that veto in the 2021 General Assembly session.

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