ANNAPOLIS — After three years of meetings, hours of dialogue and reviewing hundreds upon hundreds of documents, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a major education plan Friday advocates say will vastly improve public education over the next 10 years.
The House voted 96-41 on the measure, which, if passed, will expand early childhood education eligibility to 3- and 4-year-olds, incorporate college- and career-readiness standards and provide additional counselors in communities with high concentrations of poverty.
The nearly 200-page bill, named the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, is based on recommendations from the 25-member Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission.
The bill now heads for review in the Senate.
“Growing up in poverty, I understand this is going to help so many kids like me that went to our school system,” said Del. Alonzo Washington (D-District 22) of Greenbelt, the only House lawmaker from Prince George’s County on the Kirwan Commission. “They will benefit not only from just the funding, but the education reforms and opportunities that we have here to really close the achievement gap in our state and our county.”
Earlier Friday, members of the House debated the bill, which Democratic leaders prioritized as one of the top pieces of legislation for this year’s session.
Although three years of the amended $3.8 billion plan has already been approved through state legislation passed last year, how to pay for the final three or four years of the plan is still being worked out.
“We think it will get us through year six or seven,” said House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County). “Future legislators, future governors will have to maintain the commitment we made to Maryland’s kids this year. We believe it is important to make that down payment.”
Some of the proposals include tax bills estimated to generate more than $700 million, according to estimates from the state Department of Legislative Services. Taxed items would include tobacco and vaping products and digital goods, and corporate tax loopholes would be closed as well.
A sales tax proposal Luedtke sponsored was defeated in a House subcommittee Wednesday that would have reduced the tax rate from 6 percent to 5 percent. Although the state expected to generate $2.9 billion a year by 2025, small business owners complained various services would’ve been charged such as legal, accounting or landscaping.
Because of its importance to the Democratic majority, the bill would need to be passed by March 25 in order for the governor to review the plan before the last day of the session on April 6, known as sine die.
A three-fifths majority vote is needed to override any veto.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has criticized the proposal, especially the prospect of implementing new tax increases and its lack of a plan to pay for it through 2030. He derisively referred to the group that worked for more than three years on the education proposal, led by former University of Maryland System chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, as the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.”
Republicans tried to incorporate 14 of the 16 amendments discussed during the lengthy debate.
An exchange between Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert County) and Pam Queen (D-Montgomery County) got testy when Fisher proposed an amendment for students who attends “failing schools” with a one-star rating to be able transfer at an “alternative school” within the same county.
“As a parent, should I call this a busing bill?” Queen asked.
“As a parent, you should call this a choice bill,” Fisher said.
“I think this is a busing bill,” Queen said.
“I find that offensive because the students who are in the failed schools are predominately African American children,” Fisher shot back. “It’s so incredibly insulting that I’m offering an amendment to give people a choice to go to a school.”
His amendment was rejected 93-41.
Del. Jay Walker (D-District 26) of Fort Washington offered two amendments, one that would incorporate a financial literacy requirement for high school students and another calling for elementary students to participate in physical education for 90 minutes per week. Both failed.
Because both pieces of legislation are under review by the Ways and Means Committee, Del. Alonzo Washington (D-District 22) of Greenbelt said there’s no need to include them in the Blueprint bill.
The $3.8 billion investment includes $2.9 billion from the state and $864 from the 23 counties and Baltimore City through fiscal year 2030.
The new version has Prince George’s County receiving the most in state aid at $724 million; Baltimore City at $613 million; and Baltimore County with the third-highest total at nearly $323 million.
Prince George’s also saw its contribution decrease from $361 million to $183.5 million, now the second-largest amount behind Montgomery County at $234 million.
According to the new projections, 10 counties wouldn’t have to pay more based on previous education funding from its local government or high rates of poverty: Allegany, Calvert, Carroll, Dorchester, Howard, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Washington and Worchester.