Hogan expresses concern while releasing education funding, allowing Kirwan bill to take effect

A bill to infuse Maryland public schools with $1 billion for reforms over the next three years will take effect without the signature of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.

In a letter Wednesday explaining his decision to release additional money for 2020 and allow the bill to become law without his signature, the Republican governor cited concerns about long-term funding, the possibility of tax increases and the need for more accountability.

It is not the first time Hogan has voiced such concerns about the bill, called The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which was born out of recommendations from the Kirwan Commission. The bill, as passed by the Legislature, aims for more than $725 million in expanded funding in 2021 and 2022, with an additional $130 million contingent upon revenue legislation.

Lawmakers also passed a fiscal 2020 budget with $255 million in initial funding, cobbling together the increased spending by fencing off other areas of the governor’s proposed budget. Hogan had to agree to release the funds that he’d originally designated from other programs.

Hogan noted that the increased funding would propel state education spending to record levels, beyond the annual increases required by state law.

The bill passed the General Assembly with just 20 dissenting votes from Republican delegates in the House.

“Education has been — and continues to be — my top priority,” Hogan wrote in a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). “However, I have significant reservations about your shortsighted methods for implementing the Kirwan Commission’s final recommendations — namely that they will lead to massive increases in expenditures without providing the fiscal safeguards and much-needed accountability our students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers deserve.”

Among the initial reforms included in the bill passed this year are state funding incentives to increase teacher salaries, expand prekindergarten programs, improve special education and give grants to poorer schools to provide additional services to students in need.

Hogan’s letter applauded the General Assembly for establishing an inspector general for education programs in the final version of the bill, but he said accountability measures don’t go far enough to require changes at failing schools. Hogan’s letter also noted that increased education funding in the state has not always added up to better academic outcomes.

“We simply cannot repeat the same mistakes that have failed Maryland students, their parents, teachers, and the taxpayers of our state for decades,” he wrote. “In the coming months, I look forward to working with you to develop a fiscally responsible proposal that both increases accountability and improves performance outcomes.”

Hogan’s letter says the proposals of the Kirwan Commission — which hit an annual estimated cost of $3.8 billion in additional education funding after a 10-year phase-in — create an unresolved tax burden for Marylanders. His Department of Budget and Management pegs the cost at $6,200 in additional taxes for each Maryland household.

But legislators have said they are looking to new revenue streams to cover the increases in education spending. This year, lawmakers passed a separate measure that would direct online sales tax collections in excess of $100 million to a Blueprint for Maryland’s Future fund. Over the interim, legislators are studying the creation of a legal — and taxed — recreational marijuana industry and other possible revenue sources.

Broader recommendations of the Kirwan Commission — and a long-term spending plan including the costs to be shouldered by county governments — are expected to be taken up next year.

In a letter responding to Hogan on Wednesday, Miller and Jones wrote that Hogan was “incorrect” to suggest that the current bill isn’t paid for and said they will ask the Kirwan Commission to reserve a date in October to hear from Hogan’s administration on recommendations for funding the Blueprint plan.

“We are happy to meet with you at any time to work in concert on a bipartisan plan to fund the recommendations of the Commission, and our staff, and the entire General Assembly is happy to hear from you at your convenience,” the legislative leaders wrote.

Benjamin Orr, director of the liberal Maryland Center on Economic Policy, which has advocated for the adoption of education reforms, said the organization agreed with Hogan that long-term funding must be identified.

“Smart reforms to our state’s tax code can close loopholes placed there by special interests and provide the additional funds our schools need, while maintaining resources we need for other essential components of thriving communities, like health care and transportation,” Orr said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the Baltimore-based think tank issued a report on ways to fund Kirwan Commission recommendations by changing the state’s income tax, corporate tax and sales tax systems in a way that would generate $1.9 billion annually by 2030, while limiting the damage to the pocketbooks of low- and middle-income Marylanders.

Cheryl Bost, a Baltimore County teacher and Maryland State Education Association president, said in a statement that she was surprised that Hogan did not sign bipartisan legislation backed by a majority of Republican legislators, but was “thrilled” that the bill’s provisions will begin taking effect.

“Teachers and other educators will see their largest raise since the 2008 recession. More than 200 high-poverty schools will add wraparound services such as counseling and health care to break down economic barriers to learning. Schools in every ZIP code will hire more special educators and paraprofessionals to help struggling learners and students with disabilities,” Bost said.

While she and others advocated for a faster ramp-up in education spending, Bost conceded that the funding plan allowed to take effect Wednesday “is the boldest phase-in possible given current budget limitations.”

She said the Kirwan Commission and Hogan needed to work together before next legislative session on a long-term plan to close the state’s education funding gap. “We must remember that every year that goes by without passing a new funding formula is another class of students that moves through underfunded schools,” Bost said.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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