The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland advances landmark education bill that boosts funding for public schools

The Maryland State Senate convenes for the opening of the 439th session of the Maryland General Assembly on Jan. 9 in Annapolis.
The Maryland State Senate convenes for the opening of the 439th session of the Maryland General Assembly on Jan. 9 in Annapolis. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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Maryland is on the verge of adopting an educational plan designed to transform the state’s public schools, a strategy that requires a down payment of hundreds of millions of additional dollars over the next two years.

The Senate on Wednesday gave nearly unanimous approval to the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” a bill that adopts recommendations made this year by the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, a landmark panel that was charged with reshaping the state’s school system.

The bill, a top priority of Democratic leadership, needs approval from the House of Delegates before the General Assembly finishes its 90-day session on Monday night at midnight.

Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who served on the panel, also known as the Kirwan Commission, described the legislation as an initial payment on a 10-year plan to create a world-class school system in Maryland and ensure that all students, regardless of race and ethnicity, are “college- and career-ready” by 10th grade.

The measure calls for allocating $725 million through fiscal 2022 and requires an additional $130 million to be spent if the legislature identifies a way to pay for it.

“At some point, there will be a fundamental decision this legislature is going to have to make,” Pinsky said, regarding how to pay for the Kirwan recommendations over the next decade. The commission suggests the state increase the funding commitment to $3.8 billion by 2030.

The Kirwan Commission, which worked for more than two years on creating education policies, did not come up with a formula to allocate costs to the state and each of the local government. Members are expected to work on that plan over the next nine months.

Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), the vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said the state next year could look at legalizing recreational marijuana and sports betting to help pay for education. He said the state also plans to use sales tax from some online companies. The legislature is moving a bill that would allow it to collect taxes on “marketplace facilitators” — businesses, such as Poshmark and Amazon, which enter into contracts with third parties to sell goods on the platforms.

The recommendations from the panel include expanding early-childhood education, increasing teacher pay and boosting spending on special education. It also calls for grants to schools with high poverty rates and for improving teacher standards.

Over the next two years, the legislation would pay for school-based health centers, grants for schools where at least 80 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, raises for teachers (the state will provide a 1.5 percent raise if the local district gives 3 percent) and grants to improve teacher standards.

The Senate bill also calls for the creation of an Office of the Inspector General, which would investigate complaints of waste, fraud and abuse in public schools as well as in private schools that receive state funds.

Under the bill, the inspector general would be appointed by a majority vote of the governor, state treasurer and attorney general. The five-year appointment would be subject to Senate confirmation.

Late Tuesday, Republican lawmakers offered numerous amendments to the creation and duties of the Office of Inspector General.

Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey Jr. (R-Kent) unsuccessfully pushed for an amendment that would require a unanimous vote of the three elected officials. Sen. Andrew A. Serafini (R-Washington) offered an amendment to exempt private schools from the inspector general’s duties, but it failed 27 to 16.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has repeatedly pushed for legislation to create an inspector general post and was critical of any additional spending on schools without strong accountability.

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