State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to provide Maryland’s largest school districts with as much as $5 billion in construction funding, becoming the first gubernatorial candidate to address that issue in such detail.
“We are at a tipping point in the state of Maryland when it comes to education,” Madaleno (D-Montgomery) said in a statement. “Our facilities are aging, our programs no longer meet the needs of the 21st century.”
The plan, dubbed the BEACONS Act, addresses “large backlogs” of critical construction projects in Maryland’s most populous school districts. Madaleno’s proposal makes the funds available to jurisdictions with more than 75,000 students, which means Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties and Baltimore City would now qualify.
Madaleno co-sponsored a 2013 bill that funded a similar construction plan for Baltimore City Public Schools. Now, Madaleno said, $1 billion is helping to rebuild 26 Baltimore schools, and the program “is a model for the other jurisdictions of the state.”
Education issues have loomed large in the run-up to the June 26 primary, as a roster of Democratic candidates has taken aim at the popular Republican governor.
A June 6 Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that 40 percent of likely voters disapprove of the way Gov. Larry Hogan has handled education, while 43 percent approve — the governor’s worst marks on the four issues polled (the economy, taxes and transportation were the other three).
While Madaleno’s Democratic opponents haven’t released plans specifically dedicated to funding school construction, many have supported such funding and have been vocal on other education issues.
Former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous has made school renovation one of his top priorities and wants to address the backlog of construction projects, his campaign said.
In a 10-point education plan, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said he would increase state spending on school infrastructure and renovate or replace schools that are more than 50 years old.
Baltimore lawyer James L. Shea said in a statement that Madaleno’s plan was “a good idea” but said that funds should be made available to all districts, not just the state’s five largest. “Kids everywhere in Maryland deserve 21st century schools,” he said.