Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones announced Saturday morning that the first bill introduced next legislative session will be to dramatically increase funding for public school construction.
In a speech to the Legislative Black Caucus, Jones said House Bill 1 next year will provide an increase of $2 billion in state funding for school construction over a decade.
The House of Delegates passed a similar bill this past legislative session, but it died in the Senate.
Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, was the keynote speaker at the Legislative Black Caucus’ Annual Unity Breakfast in Greenbelt on Saturday. According to the text of her speech, Jones planned to emphasize ending educational disparities between children of different races. Jones is the first woman and African-American elected as speaker in Maryland.
“We have the distinction in Maryland of being one of the wealthiest states in this country. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. And yet, some of our children sit in buildings with no heat or air conditioning. They attend classes with underpaid teachers and come to school without the skills to learn,” Jones’ speech said.
Jones planned to ask the Legislative Black Caucus to make funding public schools the top priority of the caucus.
Jones is a member of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — the so-called Kirwan commission, nicknamed after its chairman, former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan — which has been studying how to best improve the state’s schools.
Jones planned to urge the Legislative Black Caucus to put its considerable political clout behind the Kirwan commission’s recommendations.
It recommends implementing full-day prekindergarten that is free for low-income 3- and 4-year olds, and expanding services for even younger children and their families; hiring and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers, and toughening certification standards; increasing standards and services so that all students are ready for college or career; and establishing a strong accountability system to oversee the commission’s recommendations.
The commission has not yet identified funding streams to pay for its recommendations.
“I am calling on the Black Caucus to make passage of a robust funding plan to implement the Kirwan Commission the No. 1 priority of this organization for the 2020 session — or however long it takes to make sure that no child is denied the opportunity for the best education in the country,” Jones’ speech said. “I am also asking you to put the weight of our organization behind passage of next year’s House Bill One: an infusion of over two billion additional dollars in school construction to counties across Maryland over the next decade.”
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has also pledged to introduce legislation to increase funding for school construction next year. His proposal failed in the General Assembly this year, the first time it was introduced.
Hogan’s plan uses revenue from casinos and is about $300 million smaller than the proposal backed by Democrats in the House of Delegates.
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, called education the governor’s “top priority” and said he hopes Jones’ announcement is “a sign that the legislature will actually act on the governor’s plan this time, so we can clear the backlog of aging schools in need of repair.”
In a budget dispute with Democrats, Hogan earlier this month announced he would withhold $127 million for school construction the legislature had amended into the budget.