By William J. Ford
ANNAPOLIS — A day after the Maryland Senate colleagues voted for an education plan that seeks to boost the state’s public school system, their colleagues across the hall did the same Thursday, overwhelmingly approving the overhaul proposal that had been years in the making.
The two-year plan, known as the “Education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” would boost teacher salaries by 1.5 percent from the state if counties and Baltimore City provide 3 percent, incorporate a college- and career-readiness standard by the end of 10th grade and offer additional resources for students with disabilities.
Schools that had at least 80 percent of the student population receive free or reduced lunch in the most recent two school years are eligible to receive a variety of services, including a grant to hire a full-time health practitioner during school hours, incorporate school-based health centers and in-school and after-school programming.
“This is a huge step in the right direction for ensuring that our students in the most vulnerable populations in the state of Maryland have adequate, excellent education,” said Del. Alonzo Washington (D-District 22) of Greenbelt, who served on the 25-member Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. “It’s huge for us.”
In Prince George’s County, nearly 50 schools could be eligible under the free and reduced lunch guideline and other wraparound services. To help pay for those needs, the legislation highlights each school would receive a grant of nearly $250,000 in fiscal 2020 and 2021.
“We’re the second-largest jurisdiction in the state of Maryland that will get funding to help our schools,” said Monica Goldson, interim CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools. “That begins to close the equitable gap that exists in terms of financing a school district that’s 91 percent children of color and 60 percent on free and reduced lunch.”
The House made a few minor amendments, so the bill must go back to the Senate. If approved, it then would head to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for a signature.
Hogan has said stronger accountability measures should be placed on local school systems, especially when receiving millions of dollars in funding.
In that vein, the bill incorporates an inspector general of education to assess waste, fraud and abuse of public money and property. The inspector general would also investigate nonpublic schools that receive state funding.
The appointee would serve a five-year term upon a majority vote of the governor, attorney general and state treasurer and confirmation by the Senate.
One rejected amendment from Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert County) sought to permit eligible public school students “to get out a failed system” to receive scholarships and admit nonpublic school students. The amendment was voted down 92-41.
“It takes a Republican to offer this amendment,” Fisher said. “I’m willing to challenge the status quo. It took some guts to put this on the floor and I’m glad to do it.”
The measure allocates $725 million through 2022 with an additional $130 million if lawmakers can pass legislation next year on how to pay for additional programming.
The education package is based on two years of recommendations by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission, led by William E. “Brit” Kirwan, former chancellor of the University of Maryland System.
The legislature already approved an additional $255 million in the budget toward the Kirwan recommendations.
Education advocates and lawmakers have said schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion annually.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.