Miller called the proposal “a big deal” and repeated his pledge to spend the final years of his nearly five-decade legislative career working to dramatically enhance education funding.
The construction initiative focuses only on buildings and is separate from the broad overhaul of classroom instruction proposed by the Kirwan Commission. Both proposals will be considered in Annapolis in the coming year, and Miller promised that the legislative leaders around him were prepared to “take a tough vote” to enact both.
“We’re going to fund Kirwan this year,” Miller said. “We’re going to do it. And we’re going to find a way to bring the governor along.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has called the Kirwan effort “pie in the sky” and too expensive. He is seeking to raise millions to pay for an advocacy campaign to stop it.
But the Democrats who control the General Assembly said Wednesday that the state must enhance both classrooms and the learning that takes place inside them. “Students can’t learn if their classrooms are deteriorating,” Jones said. “We need to replace leaks with literacy.”
The $2.2 billion would be in addition to the roughly $400 million per year that Maryland already dedicates to fixing school buildings. The Maryland Stadium Authority would oversee construction and issue revenue bonds to cover the costs. The debt would be repaid over decades, using $125 million per year out of about $538 million in tax receipts generated by Maryland’s casino industry.
A similar proposal passed the House of Delegates last year but stalled in the Senate. Under that bill, $400 million would have gone to each of the state’s four largest jurisdictions: Baltimore City and Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore counties. The rest would have been divided among other counties. Local districts would still have been required to help pay for school construction projects. State leaders did not release a copy of the new legislation, dubbed Built to Learn.
If passed, it would be Maryland’s largest infusion of cash into public school buildings in state history. It would dwarf the closest effort to date: the $1 billion 21st Century Schools initiative passed in 2013 to benefit Baltimore, which has the oldest schools in Maryland. The state, city government, and city schools evenly split the cost.
Even with that investment, many schools in Baltimore lack proper heating and air conditioning, forcing them to close when it is extremely hot or cold outside. Some schools in Prince George’s with outdated HVAC systems also close when the temperature is scorching.
Wednesday’s news conference was held at Forest Heights Elementary School in Prince George’s, which officials had to close this school year because the foundation was unstable. Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said the proposal would accelerate the county’s plan to build 10 more schools — several through a public-private partnership — and free up resources to address $8.5 billion in backlogged maintenance projects.
“This is about Maryland’s children, and what we owe to every single child,” she said. “This inequity is something that cannot continue.”
In Montgomery County, where exploding enrollment has strained resources, the county has a $1.2 billion construction backlog, said Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery), an original sponsor of the funding bill.
Hogan has made infrastructure a priority and last year proposed his own school construction plan, which the legislature rejected.
“While they are a year late, we are glad that General Assembly leaders are now endorsing our historic school construction plan,” Hogan said in a statement Wednesday. “I certainly look forward to working with them to get it done.”
Ferguson noted that spending $125 million a year to significantly increase school construction was Hogan’s idea. But he said the legislature rejected the proposal last year because it was offered as an alternative to the more sweeping Kirwan overhaul, which includes tougher teaching training, higher teacher pay, more resources for poor districts and free preschool for all 4-year-olds, among other proposals. Taken together, they could cost as much as $4 billion per year when fully implemented and could force some local school districts to dramatically increase spending.
Democrats have not yet said how they would generate that funding. Asked Wednesday whether they would require a tax increase, Ferguson did not rule it out. Instead, he said the state would need to have a conversation about its priorities.
Ferguson, 36, told the story of starting his career as a high school teacher in Baltimore and having to carry a pair of scissors in his pocket because his classroom’s doorknob was broken. If anyone needed to go to the bathroom, he said, “I needed to break out. . . . This was not okay.”