GOP offers own ideas on education
Maryland Democrats moving forward with far-reaching proposals
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.