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General Assembly approves first phase of sweeping education reform

ANNAPOLIS — The foundation for sweeping changes to Maryland’s educational system is now in place.

The vast majority of lawmakers agreed this session to a set of aspirational goals, teacher salary increases and the creation of an independent inspector general to review fraud, waste and abuse in public schools with the passage of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The bill will enable the General Assembly to adopt new funding formulas and targeted changes to the state’s education system next session.

“In terms of where we started out and what our goals were, we’ve achieved just about every single one in terms of education, in terms of health care, in terms of public safety, in terms of balancing the budget with no tax increases. The biggest thing was Kirwan, Kirwan, Kirwan,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller on Monday.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Educations — commonly called the Kirwan Commission — will continue its work in 2019 to work out the details of the planned educational reforms, and educators will begin implementing some changes in the classroom in the fall.

“Educators are eager to fully implement the blueprint, and know that the General Assembly took the boldest action possible given current budget limitations,” said Cheryl Bost, a Baltimore County elementary school teacher and president of Maryland State Education Association teachers union, after the bill’s passage last Friday.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk and will take effect on June 1.

Del. Ken Kerr (D-Frederick), who taught elementary school early in his career and spent the last 25 years in higher education, said the bill was an important step forward for the state to recruit and retain teachers. Next year’s bill will also play an important role in promoting career paths as an alternative to college to fill existing mid-skill jobs currently unfilled by Maryland’s labor market.

Frederick County Public Schools and Frederick Community College, where Kerr is employed, have done a good job in the past five years of preparing high school students for college, Kerr said. The implementation of statewide educational reforms, however, presents an opportunity to also improve career readiness among high school students, he said.

Kerr is an advocate of modern apprenticeships, which prepare students for careers that do not require a four-year degree. He hopes to add a section to the 2020 education bill to have high schools pay for industry exams, if they are already covering the cost of AP exams. The tests could cover a range of apprenticeships, from biomedical processing to electricians.

“We need to do a better job of letting kids know those careers exist,” Kerr said.

All members of the Frederick County delegation voted in favor of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, except Del. Barrie Ciliberti (R-Frederick and Carroll).

Reforms recommended by the Kirwan Commission are expected to cost $1.1 billion in the next three years, but giving more money to the education system is not the answer, Ciliberti said.

“The money, right now, is in there [the state budget]. ... I voted against the succeeding years based on the fact that we don’t have a revenue stream to deal with it,” Ciliberti said.

He was opposed to raising taxes to finance future years of the build-out of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations. Fellow local Republicans Sen. Michael Hough (Carroll and Frederick), Del. Dan Cox (Carroll and Frederick) and Del. Jesse Pippy (Carroll and Frederick) also said they would need to examine the financing in future years, but were supportive of the blueprint’s first year.

Cox said one of his campaign promises was to increase teacher salaries, and the first year of the blueprint was a way to fulfill it.

The Frederick County delegation unanimously signed a letter in support of a provision added by the Senate supporting agricultural education.

The next generation of family farmers in Frederick County have the opportunity to tap into growing agritourism, brewing, distilling and local sourcing markets, Kerr said.

“It’s an important industry for my district, and we need to help give kids a reason to take over the family farm and give the possibility that you can take a go at it,” Kerr said.

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