By William J. Ford
ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate voted Wednesday to implement a multimillion-dollar education plan to revamp the state’s public schools, including an expansion of early childhood, school-based health centers and special education programs.
The two-year plan, known as the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” would also boost teacher salaries — by 1.5 percent from the state if counties and Baltimore City provide 3 percent.
“This bill as it stands before us is well-crafted, it’s well-put-together,” said Sen. Andrew Serafini (R-Washington County). “A lot of people put a lot of work into this and the funding is there. It is a responsible bill and moves us in a good direction.”
The 43-1 vote sets up the state to allocate $725 million through 2022 with an additional $130 million if the Senate can pass legislation next year on how to pay for additional programming.
The bill now heads to the House of Delegates with the 90-day session ending at midnight Monday.
The education package comes after two years of work by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission, led by William “Brit” Kirwan, former chancellor of the University of Maryland System.
After the vote, Kirwan was applauded by senators as he sat upstairs and clapped in the Senate gallery.
The legislature already approved an additional $255 million in the budget toward the commission’s recommendations.
Education advocates and lawmakers have said schools are adequately underfunded by $2.9 billion annually.
However, Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County) voted against the measure because he feared it would take away money from school construction legislation approved in the House of Delegates.
“It is just unacceptable that in the future we will have well-trained, well-paid teachers in Baltimore County standing in classrooms which are egregiously overcrowded and un-air-conditioned” he said. “We need to achieve a balance … and I hope next year we can be more successful finding money not only for Kirwan, but for essential school construction.”
According to the legislation’s blueprint, items school systems would receive include:
• Expanded early childhood education for 3-year and 4-year-old children.
• A college and career readiness standard by the end of 10th grade.
• Wraparound services for some students such as additional counselors, vision and dental needs.
• A professional development program for teachers on “racial awareness, cultural competency, religious tolerance and restorative practices.”
An additional measure on accountability, coming from Gov. Larry Hogan, would install an inspector general of education to assess waste, fraud and abuse of public money and property. The person would also investigate nonpublic schools that receive state funding.
The inspector general would serve a five-year term after a majority vote of the governor, attorney general and state treasurer, followed by Senate confirmation.
As for determining how much the state and local governments would pay in the future, the Kirwan Commission will continue to work on that with a possible recommendation later this year.
“The fact is, these lofty goals are achievable in Maryland,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). “The message today is ‘that this is just a first step.’ Over the next nine months, we must have a very real and challenging and hard conversation about whether or not we have the political will to put this vision into action. I believe we do.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.