Baltimore Sun

General Assembly weighs education bills

Delegates advance $900M plan to reform public schools

- By Lillian Reed Baltimore Sun reporters Hannah Gaskill and Sam Janesch contribute­d to this article.

State lawmakers weighed dozens of education-related legislatio­n this General Assembly session ahead of Monday’s deadline for the two chambers to pass bills to each other.

Bills passed to either the House or Senate before the cutoff, referred to as “crossover day,” face fewer hurdles to becoming law during the remaining three weeks of the session.

Here’s how some of the bills related to K-12 public education in Maryland have fared through the session.

Funding for K-12 schools

One of the biggest education issues in front of lawmakers this year is funding the state’s ambitious reform plan for public K-12 schools, called the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

Gov. Wes Moore kicked off the session in January with a proposal committing an additional $500 million in funding for the reform plan, which is set to inject billions of dollars annually into the state’s public schools over the next decade. Delegates advanced a $62.5 billion state budget plan Friday boosting that amount to $900 million.

Negotiatio­ns are ongoing between the Senate and House, leaving the specifics unsettled. Other facets of the budget that could prove sticking points for lawmakers include funding for the state’s school choice program called Broadening Options and Opportunit­ies for Students Today, or BOOST. The program provides public financing for students from low-income households to attend Maryland private schools.

Moore’s budget proposed reducing BOOST funding by $2 million in 2024. The Senate version of the state’s budget plan would restore that funding.

Another notable funding bill this session sought to alter the terms of the Built To Learn Act of 2021, which increased annual funding for school constructi­on projects throughout the state by about $125 million. The legislatio­n would have given school systems more flexibilit­y to use the funds for smaller renovation­s, but it was withdrawn by sponsor Sen. Katie Fry Hester, who represents portions of Howard and Montgomery counties.

Curriculum proposals

Although curricula decisions in Maryland historical­ly have fallen to local school systems, lawmakers are considerin­g a change this year that would give the state superinten­dent more power over school boards when it comes to educationa­l content.

The bill originally concentrat­ed on updating the Maryland State Department of Education’s comprehens­ive health education framework but underwent significan­t revisions in recent months.

House Bill 119 is currently poised to give the state superinten­dent authority to withhold 10% of a school system’s state funding if discrepanc­ies over curriculum, courses of study, resource material or other teaching aids are not resolved within 30 days. If the discrepanc­y is not resolved within 90 days, another 10% may be withheld.

The bill, which has passed to the Senate, drew opposition from the Maryland Associatio­n of Boards of Education even before it underwent changes. Its considerat­ion comes at a time when school boards, parents and educators are feuding nationwide over how to teach children about a variety of topics ranging from gender identity, race, sexuality and U.S. history.

Other bills that sought to require curriculum on financial literacy and the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks have not crossed over.

Protecting children

Delegates passed a bill to the Senate to consider an update to Maryland criminal law that would expand the definition of a “person in a position of authority” in the context of sexual offenses with a minor.

Del. Sara Love, a Montgomery County Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, has said the legislatio­n closes a loophole that excludes adults who often work closely with children outside traditiona­l educationa­l settings.

A bill seeking to close the loophole on corporal punishment in schools has also passed to the Senate. House Bill 185, introduced by Del. Eric Ebersole of Baltimore County, would order the state education department to eliminate any use of corporal punishment in schools and would explicitly prohibit it in nonpublic schools and registered family child care homes.

It would bar the State Board of Education from certifying any noncollegi­ate educationa­l institutio­n that lacks a policy banning the practice.

Ebersole has said he was inspired to sponsor the bill by his wife, Tara Ebersole, who is writing a novel partially inspired by her early experience­s using such punishment as a teacher in Tennessee in the 1980s.

A House bill that sought to protect children by requiring tech companies to design their products with children’s well-being in mind is now in front of the Senate for considerat­ion.

Parents’ rights and responsibi­lities

Parents also were the subject of several bills this session — with some seeking to bolster their rights or to hold them accountabl­e when their children misbehave.

Delegates have passed a version of House Bill 294, which would place the burden of proof on local school boards during due-process hearings for children with disabiliti­es or the provision of a free appropriat­e public education.

If approved, the bill could have significan­t benefits for families who seek specialize­d services for students with disabiliti­es, such as speech or physical therapy. Although parents who believe their students are not receiving the services they need can file a complaint and take their case to a judge, Maryland parents rarely prevail in these legal battles. The bill would give them more clout in such disputes.

Meanwhile, the Parent and Guardian Accountabi­lity Act, introduced by Del. Robert Long, has not passed to the Senate. The bill would require a primary caretaker to participat­e in counseling with their student after receiving notice of repeated violent or disruptive behavior on school premises or during school-related activities. Parents who flout this proposed law could face court-ordered community service. Similar legislatio­n was introduced in 2020 and again in 2022.

Teachers’ rights

A bill introduced in the House this session would protect employees of any public, private or parochial school in some cases from civil liability in a personal injury or property damage dispute concerning a student.

Lawmakers sent House Bill 137 to the Senate, where it awaits committee referral. Del. Robin Grammer, a Baltimore County Republican sponsoring the bill, has said the state needs to find ways to stabilize educationa­l settings when educators say they’re seeing discipline issues among students. Grammer said some educators have shared with him that they’re afraid to intervene in physical altercatio­ns between students for fear of getting sued.

Another bill regarding teachers that made it to the opposite chamber involves the right to collective­ly bargain over class sizes. If passed, it could could in theory increase the number of teachers a local school system must employ, as well as the number of classrooms needed, if lawmakers decide to approve it without change.

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