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O’Malley proposes $336 million to fund public school construction, upgrades

(Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, center, proposes $336 million in funding for school construction and upgrades during a news conference at Overlea High School in Baltimore County. (Photo by John Wagner/The Washington Post))

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Monday proposed spending $336 million next year on the construction and upgrade of public schools as he started rolling out his agenda for the coming legislative session.

Appearing at a high school in Baltimore County, O’Malley said the spending would continue his administration’s commitment to investing in public schools even in “the toughest of economic times.”

His proposed outlay is on par with what O’Malley has sought from the legislature in recent years, though it is higher than what the state spent under his Republican predecessor, a point O’Malley made during his news conference at Overlea High School.

Of the $336 million, O’Malley’s proposal earmarks $25 million to provide air conditioning in schools.

Administration officials said about 180 of the roughly 1,400 public schools in Maryland lack air conditioning. About one-third of those are in Baltimore County, they said.

“We can’t expect our students to be as productive as they can be ... in excessively hot environments,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who joined O’Malley at the news conference.

The school construction proposal is expected to be one of the less controversial aspects of O’Malley’s agenda for the legislative session, which starts Wednesday.

The governor is also eying gun-control measures, subsidies for the wind-power industry, a possible repeal of the death penalty and a possible increase in funding for state transportation projects.

Last year, O’Malley proposed applying the state sales tax to gasoline, a plan projected to raise more than $600 million a year for roads and mass transit projects. The plan went nowhere.

Asked Monday whether there is now a consensus around a similar plan or other new source of transportation funding, O’Malley joked: “The consensus we’ve reached is all of us want to do more and none of us want to pay for it.”

O’Malley is expected to detail other initiatives in coming days.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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