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Hogan vetoes education plan, HBCU money, citing coronavirus economic downturn

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) at a news conference Wednesday in Annapolis. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday vetoed a sweeping plan to overhaul public schools that proponents said would fix generations of inequity, saying the coronavirus pandemic made the costly education proposal “irresponsible” to enact.

“The economic fallout from this pandemic simply makes it impossible to fund any new programs, impose any new tax hikes, nor adopt any legislation having any significant fiscal impact, regardless of the merits of the legislation,” Hogan (R) wrote in a veto message as he struck down 22 bills that carried a price tag. Among them was a $580 million disbursement to the state’s historically black colleges and universities, key to settling a long-running lawsuit over inequitable funding.

Hogan warned weeks ago that high unemployment and widespread economic pain made it unlikely he would approve any legislation that forced the state to spend more money. Maryland has already spent as much as $2 billion on the pandemic and seen losses so large that the state could lose 15 percent of its annual revenue by the end of June.

The $4 billion annual price tag for the education plan, known as Kirwan, made it a prime target of his veto pen.

The Democratic-controlled legislature approved the plan in mid-March by a margin large enough to override his veto, before the spread of the virus forced it to abbreviate the annual lawmaking session.

The legislature also passed several new taxes to help pay for the plan, including a tax on digital downloads such as Netflix and video games, a corporate tax change intended to bring in tens of millions each year, a new tax on vaping products and a doubled tax on cigarettes. It also passed a first-in-the-nation proposal to tax the targeted digital advertising on giant online platforms such as Facebook and Google.

The governor vetoed each of them.

“With our state in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crash, and just beginning on our road to recovery, it would be unconscionable to raise taxes and fees now,” Hogan wrote.

Maryland’s long-planned, $4 billion schools overhaul in jeopardy because of pandemic

Democrats who lead the General Assembly — and who worked for years to craft the education overhaul — condemned the governor's decision as shortsighted.

“While we are in the midst of a public health and economic crisis of an extraordinary magnitude, stopping progress on education and school construction puts us even further behind,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said in a statement minutes after the veto was issued. “We know that there are students across this State that are losing millions of hours of learning. The result of this shortsighted action is Maryland will continue to graduate students that are not ready for the real world.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) added, “He chose to foreclose hope, leaving Maryland families and historically black colleges and universities with an open question for the future.”

Even before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the state’s economy, Hogan was an outspoken critic of the plan and its eventual $4 billion annual price tag.

Democratic lawmakers said the state’s public education system needed an overhaul because of generations of disparities and conditions that left the state’s once vaunted school system slipping into mediocrity.

The bill set in place a 10-year plan to expand prekindergarten; increase funding to schools with a high percentage of poor, special-education or limited-English students; raise teacher pay and increase standards; and add programs to ensure that students are prepared for college and careers.

Its goals were ambitious — ensuring that every child is prepared for college or work by the end of the 10th grade (no later than the end of the 12th grade); raising student performance to among the best in the world; and eliminating achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity and income.

It was the first major overhaul on education policy by a state since Massachusetts — regarded as the nation’s gold standard on public education — approved legislation nearly three decades ago.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is involved with a decades-long court case over the disparities in Maryland, urged the legislature to override the governor, saying the veto “means that tens of thousands of children will continue to attend substandard schools that do not meet the state’s constitutional guarantee of a ‘thorough and efficient’ education.”

Students failing, teachers fleeing: In Md., calls for sweeping — and expensive — education reform

The General Assembly can reverse Hogan’s veto with a three-fifths majority and has opened each of its recent legislative sessions by overriding some of his decisions.

If lawmakers do not reverse Hogan’s decision on Kirwan, Thursday’s veto also ends a separate program that would have spent an unprecedented $2.2 billion on school construction over the next five years. Hogan had heralded that initiative as a way to complete every school construction project in the state. But in an effort to dissuade Hogan from vetoing the education overhaul, lawmakers made the school construction bill contingent on Kirwan taking effect.

Thursday’s veto also creates uncertainty for a 13-year lawsuit over whether Maryland systematically gave fewer resources to historically black colleges.

A coalition of college graduates filed the case in 2006, alleging that the state caused damage to the HBCUs’ enrollment by letting other state colleges duplicate programs that once attracted a diverse student body to the historically black institutions. Hogan and his predecessors have been at odds with the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland over the legal battle for years. The funding under the bill is almost three times as much as Hogan’s “final offer” made last year to settle the suit, a sum plaintiffs and black lawmakers considered insufficient to fix the disparity.

“We are frustrated and disappointed that our work was responded to with the Governor’s veto,” Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the head of the Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement. “Allowing the bill to become law would have leveled the playing field for our HBCUs.”

Hogan also vetoed bills aimed at reducing violent crime in Baltimore, saying the legislature should have enacted his proposals instead.

The measures he vetoed included one that required background checks for some private sales of rifles and shotguns. It was initially proposed after a gunman killed five employees of the Annapolis Capital Gazette newspaper with a legally purchased, pump-action shotgun. Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard) tweeted that she was “beyond disappointed” that the bill was one of seven crime-related bills Hogan vetoed.

Several measures with significant price tags survived the governor’s veto pen, including a $424 million project to eventually rebuild the Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore, home of the Preakness Stakes. Another bill creates a $1.4 million annual program to let people go on payment plans to pay fines on suspended driver’s licenses.

The governor also allowed hundreds of bills to become law without his signature, including a measure that broadens the state’s hate-crime law, a bill that makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against renters based on income, and legislation that bans discrimination against black hairstyles.

With session abbreviated by coronavirus, Md. lawmakers speed through 500 bills

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