GOP of­fers own ideas on education

Mary­land Democrats mov­ing for­ward with far-reach­ing pro­pos­als

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Pamela Wood

Mary­land’s Repub­li­can law­mak­ers put for­ward their ideas Thurs­day for im­prov­ing pub­lic schools, just as law­mak­ers are about to be­gin de­bat­ing a mas­sive education fund­ing in­crease backed by Demo­cratic lead­ers.

The Repub­li­cans — who are far out­num­bered in Mary­land’s leg­is­la­ture — touted an ar­ray of bills that they say would im­prove class­room dis­ci­pline and offer chil­dren in poorly performing schools op­tions to trans­fer to other pub­lic or pri­vate schools.

The pack­age of bills face un­cer­tain odds, but at least one pro­posal, the so-called Predator-Free Schools Act, has sup­port from some Democrats.

That bill has not yet been in­tro­duced, but sup­port­ers say it would for­bid sex of­fend­ers from be­ing on school prop­erty dur­ing the school day or dur­ing school ac­tiv­i­ties.

It’s a re­sponse to a case in­volv­ing a 21-year-old Parkville High School stu­dent who was charged in De­cem­ber with sec­ond-de­gree rape. The al­leged rape did not take place on school grounds. The stu­dent had a prior con­vic­tion of a fourth- de­gree sex of­fense, which some ar­gue should have dis­qual­i­fied the stu­dent from at­tend­ing classes along­side other stu­dents.

The Repub­li­cans made their an­nounce­ment in ad­vance of the start of of­fi­cial de­bate on a bill to im­ple­ment bil­lions of dol­lars worth of im­prove­ments to schools as rec­om­mended by the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion.

The com­mis­sion — headed by Wil­liam “Brit” Kir­wan, for­mer chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land — spent three years study­ing how to im­prove achieve­ment at the state’s pub­lic schools. Among the rec­om­men­da­tions: ex­pand­ing prekinder­garten, pro­vid­ing more sup­port to high­poverty schools, re­vamp­ing col­lege- and ca­reer-prep pro­grams, and boost­ing teacher pay.

On Mon­day, the Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s House and Se­nate com­mit­tees that work on education and bud­get is­sues will hold a joint meet­ing to hear tes­ti­mony on the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion’s bill. The hear­ing will be pre­ceded by a rally or­ga­nized by the state teach­ers’ union.

House Speaker Adri­enne A. Jones and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Bill Ferguson, both Democrats, have said that pass­ing the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion bill — and find­ing a way to pay for it — is a top pri­or­ity this leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

The Kir­wan pro­grams have a 10-year phase-in that will cost $4 bil­lion more per year even­tu­ally, with $2.8 bil­lion ex­tra from the state and $1.2 bil­lion more from lo­cal­i­ties.

Del. Kathy Szeliga, the Repub­li­cans’ mi­nor­ity whip in the House, said the Kir­wan bill has “dom­i­nated” the dis­cus­sion of education in An­napo­lis.

The flaw of the Kir­wan rec­om­men­da­tions, she said, is they look t oward mak­ing l ong- t erm changes.

“We’re not hear­ing about things that are going on to­day, and ways that we can ad­dress teach­ers and stu­dents and class­rooms and par­ents to­day,” said Szeliga, who rep­re­sents parts of Har­ford and Bal­ti­more coun­ties. “There are crit­i­cal is­sues facing our stu­dents that Kir­wan just doesn’t ad­dress.”

Other pro­pos­als backed by Repub­li­cans in­clude:

Right to Teach Act: Al­lows teach­ers to de­ter­mine whether stu­dents who have been re­moved from the class­room for dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior can re­turn.

Good Teacher Pro­tec­tion Act: Pro­vides civil im­mu­nity for ed­u­ca­tors who in­ter­vene in fights or dis­rup­tions.

Ac­count­abil­ity in Education Act: Gives more au­thor­ity to the new state in­spec­tor gen­eral for education and es­tab­lishes a hot­line for teach­ers to report dis­ci­pline is­sues they feel have not been han­dled well by ad­min­is­tra­tors.

Right to Learn Act: Al­lows stu­dents in schools rated at one star in the state’s rat­ing sys­tem to trans­fer to a pub­lic school with at least two stars or re­ceive tu­ition as­sis­tance to en­roll in a pri­vate school.

Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan, mean­while, also has in­tro­duced education bills that have not yet ad­vanced in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

His pro­posal to set up lo­cal over­sight com­mit­tees to re­vamp one-star rated schools — called the Com­mu­nity and Lo­cal Ac­count­abil­ity for Strug­gling Schools Act, or “CLASS” Act — is sched­uled for a pub­lic hear­ing next week.

Ho­gan also has a plan to use casino rev­enues to pay off bonds that would be used to speed up school con­struc­tion projects, called the Build­ing Op­por­tu­nity Act. That bill hasn’t ad­vanced but a sim­i­lar bill pro­moted by Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, called the Built to Learn Act, is sched­uled for a vote in the House of Del­e­gates on Fri­day.

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