“The current system is not working,” said Jones, who was joined by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) in pushing for the bill. “We can’t be satisfied as policymakers until every child in every Zip code has the chance to succeed.”
The legislation, which would ultimately cost nearly $4 billion a year and make a generational shift in education policy, is designed to transform what educators have called a “middle of the pack” school system into one of the best-performing in the world.
“Maryland students are struggling to compete among their peers internationally,” Jones said. “Achievement gaps based on income, race and disability aren’t closing. We’re losing good teachers to better-paying industries. And the majority of our high school graduates aren’t college- and career-ready.”
William “Brit” Kirwan, a former chancellor of the University System of Maryland who chaired the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, said Maryland has the chance to become a leader in public education reform with the passage of the measure, which would continue to phase in the commission’s 10-year plan.
“So much is at stake,” he told the lawmakers. “If we don’t take the steps, we’ll . . . continue to get the results that we’ve been getting.”
The 172-page bill, which is considered a top priority of the Democratic-controlled legislature, is the state’s latest and most far-reaching attempt to drastically improve student performance and to attract and retain qualified teachers, two persistent problems facing public schools across the country.
The bill’s goals are ambitious: ensuring that every child, regardless of race or ethnicity, 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.
The legislation calls for an expansion of early-childhood education for 3- and 4-year-olds and would raise standards for teachers. It also proposes more dual-enrollment programs that allow students to take high school and college classes at the same time, as well as apprenticeship and career and technology programs that allow students to receive certification during high school; additional interventions for students who fall behind; and more supports for students who have disabilities, come from low-income families or are English-as-a-second-language learners.
The bill also would create an oversight board to ensure that new funding is spent properly.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said that 62 percent of the students attending public schools in her county come from poor families, and that the district has the largest number of students with disabilities and the highest number of students who speak English as a second language.
Democrats and Republicans have said they agree with the overall mission of the legislation, but some Republicans have expressed concern over the expensive price tag.
Under the legislation, the state would contribute $2.6 billion more by fiscal 2030 to local schools, while local jurisdictions would be asked to spend $1.3 billion more in the next 10 years. Prince George’s County, for example, would receive $521 million more in 2030 but would have to contribute $386 million that year.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been critical of how much the state would have to spend and whether there would be appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that the money is being spent properly.
Before the hearing, he announced his appointment of Richard P. Henry as the state’s first inspector general for education. Henry currently leads a statewide program to ensure that local school systems comply with state regulations.
“For five years, our administration has been working hard to root out corruption, wrongdoing, and the mismanagement of state tax dollars by local school systems,” Hogan said in a statement. “With the appointment of the first Inspector General for Education in state history, we are reaffirming our commitment to providing more accountability for parents, teachers, and taxpayers and better results for our children.”