By Diane Rey
For Maryland Reporter
The House of Delegates’ floor session got off to a late start Wednesday night so that delegates on the Ways and Means Committee could vote to advance a bill passed earlier by the Senate that would provide record funding for Maryland schools.
Lawmakers have put SB1030, dubbed The Education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, on a fast track. It would infuse an additional $725 million into public schools over the next two years.
The heavily amended bill passed the Senate Wednesday on third reading by a vote of 43 to 1. The Senate reduced the amount of spending in the initial legislation.
The bill paves the way for additional measures expected to come next year as lawmakers implement recommendations from the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, named for its chairman, William “Brit” Kirwan.
The commission has been studying ways to make the state’s education system “world class.” The commission is supposed to finish its work on the school funding formulas later this year. This year’s bill has been described as a “downpayment” on that increased funding.
The House Ways and Means Committee and the Appropriations Committee met in a joint work session Wednesday afternoon to go over the Senate’s amendments to the bill.
Del. Alice Cain, D-Anne Arundel, who serves on the Ways and Means Committee, said four of her amendments were passed by the committee.
“It seems like it’s on track to make it across the finish line,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
Del. Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore City, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, said that committee supports all the funding measures of the bill. She predicted it would be on the House floor Thursday morning.
“We absolutely have to pass the education blueprint this year to make sure we don’t lose any more time in increasing funding and beginning to implement policy solutions to some of the challenges facing our schools,” Lierman said.
More pre-kindergarten, higher teacher pay
The new money this year and next would pay for increasing teacher salaries, expanding pre-kindergarten and providing more health-based services to students and their families.
The Senate heard a number of floor amendments to the bill on Tuesday, with seven Republican amendments rejected.
Rachel Hise, analyst with the Department of Legislative Services who was the lead staff person for the commission, explained the Senate’s changes to delegates in the joint work session.
One amendment adds $249,000 in grant funds for the next two years for schools in low income areas to hire a community school coordinator and a healthcare practitioner.
The Senate also added mandatory funding of $2.5 million in each of the next two fiscal years for grants to develop model professional development programs for teachers.
New inspector general for education
Senate amendments also establish a new Maryland office of the inspector general for education that would be responsible for accountability and transparency in education spending. This mirrors proposed legislation by Gov. Larry Hogan, who has said any new funding for education must have greater accountability for how it is spent.
The bill, as amended by the Senate, also sets up a teacher salary incentive grant program. School systems that give teachers at least a 3% raise over the next two fiscal years would be eligible for $75 million in grant funds to offset the cost. Priority would be given to starting teacher salaries and salaries for teachers with less than five years of experience, the period of greatest attrition in teaching ranks
Hise said the goal was to increase teacher starting salaries to $55,000 to $60,000 and to bring Maryland teacher salaries in line with Massachusetts and New Jersey.
“The number we’re going for is about $80,000,” she said.
The amended bill also provides $23 million to help county school systems boost reading literacy for struggling students in kindergarten through third grade.
The bill stipulates funding of $355 million in FY2021 and $370 million in FY2022, with an additional $130 million if revenues from other bills before the legislature are available.
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