Md. Democratic lawmakers announce plans to fix schools, inside and out

The Maryland Democratic caucus announces its $2.2 billion school construction plan. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Members of Maryland’s Democratic state leadership have announced a $2.2 billion “Built to Learn” plan to build new schools and renovate existing buildings.

Standing inside the Forest Heights Elementary School, a 66-year-old building that was unable to open in time for the school year because it was in need of renovation, Maryland Senate President Mike Miller said, “Never, never, never in the past 50 years have we had such a commitment to education as we’re going to have this year — it’s going to be astounding.”

Miller was joined by the man tapped to succeed him as Senate president in the next legislative session — Sen. Bill Ferguson, a former Baltimore City teacher who recalled his days as a teacher in a school where the classrooms didn’t have working doorknobs.

Ferguson said he carried scissors around with him to turn the lock mechanisms to open and close the doors. “Today, we ask the governor to join us to move forward to ensure that schools inside and out are world-class for every single family,” he said.

Ferguson was referring to the fact that not only do Democratic lawmakers want to fund the $2.2 billion school construction initiative, but they want to come up with a way to phase in funding for the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, which carry a price tag of $4 billion.

After the announcement, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement that he had submitted a school construction plan last legislative session that was not passed by lawmakers. “Now that our legislators are finally making school construction a priority, I certainly look forward to working with them to get it done.”

On left: Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks speaks to reporters Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. On right: Maryland Sens. Paul Pinsky and Bill Ferguson chat after the Built to Learn Act is announced. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Lawmakers were asked at the Wednesday morning event if their plans meant taxpayers would see an increase.

Ferguson didn’t answer a yes-or-no question on the issue. Lawmakers said that they are coming up with “innovative” ways to fund the Kirwan recommendations, which call for added programming, staff pay increases and more.

Later, Del. Maggie McIntosh, of Baltimore, said the school construction plan “doesn’t have anything to do with taxes.”

Democrats say they can use money from casino revenues to fund a 30-year bond that would allow them to “jump start” the construction plans.

But McIntosh appeared to concede tax increases could be on the horizon, saying Democrats could come up with a way to phase in the funding for Kirwan “in a way that would not have a major, massive tax increase.”

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said the Democrats’ plan would be a big help to her county, where the school system wants to build new schools.

“We have 18 schools that we would like to build in the next seven years as part of a really aggressive private-public partnership that we’ve established in the past year,” she said. Alsobrooks added that half of the 206 school buildings in the system are more than 50 years old or older.

Maryland’s General Assembly session begins in January.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan reported from Forest Heights, Maryland. 

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