ES Delegation

In February, the Kirwan bill passed both chambers. Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37B-Mid-Shore, turns to listen to Kirwan Commission Chairman Brit Kirwan during the Feb. 17 hearing on “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.” The education reform package awaits Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature.

ANNAPOLIS — An already expedited legislative process for the Kirwan Commission’s statewide education reform bill kicked into overdrive against a coronavirus-panicked backdrop — sending the more than $30 billion plan sliding into its midnight Monday, March 16, passage in the Senate.

The decisive 37-9 vote on the Senate floor came a little more than a week after the House of Delegates gave “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” — House bill 1300 — its 96-41 stamp of approval.

The House then voted Tuesday, March 17, to send the bill to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk to be signed into law.

Kirwan Commission Chairman Dr. Brit Kirwan, after years of policy making and debating the education reform program, said in a statement Tuesday: “Seeing the groundswell of support for this effort to lift up Maryland’s children has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

”To every student who sent in letters and attended rallies, to every parent and educator who visited their legislators and made phone calls — this victory is yours,” Kirwan said. “It’s time to make this bill law, so we can begin the work of building the world-class education system our children deserve.”

While Hogan, a vocal opponent of the education reform plan, has indicated he would veto the legislation after its inevitable passage through the General Assembly this session, it’s unclear what the bill’s fate ultimately will be as the governor’s focus has shifted to combatting the coronavirus health crisis.

But Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, who is on the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee that helped amend the bill before the full Senate vote, said many amendments that were made to the blueprint bill sought to address some of Hogan’s concerns, as well as issues raised by lawmakers during the past few years.

Eckardt said the amended bill gives the governor the authority to appoint members to an accountability board, as accountability for the Kirwan Commission’s use of significant education funds was raised repeatedly through the legislative process.

Eckardt also said the amended bill includes “robust behavioral and mental health services for our students” — changes that likely came in response to many Eastern Shore lawmakers’ concerns that the plan previously excluded such components.

Other Senate amendments, Eckardt said, provide for a pause to the program after five years to allow legislators and accountability leaders to assess the state’s academic progress and make adjustments if they’re needed.

A similar stop-and-think amendment proposed by Del. Chris Adams, R-37B-Wicomico, previously was rejected on the House floor — so its inclusion appears to be a stroke of compromise among lawmakers who have been steadily split along party lines when it comes to the Kirwan program.

Of the bill’s passage through both chambers, the Maryland State Education Association said in a statement: “In the midst of these unsettling times, we deeply appreciate the commitment of both houses of the General Assembly to pass the Blueprint and lay the groundwork for the long-term success of our students and economy.”

The MSEA called the program a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” and said it would “ensure that all of our students will benefit from the bill’s plan.”

Among the education reform program’s priorities for Maryland K-12 students and educators, according to the MSEA, are: expanding career and technical education, hiring more educators and “pay(ing) them as professionals,” giving greater support to struggling learners, and committing to “creating lasting educational equity and, ultimately, a more prosperous future for Maryland.”

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