Top local officials in Maryland's most populated counties gathered Thursday to support a measure to steer significantly more money to school construction in the state.
It was standing room only in the House Appropriations Committee hearing room for the measure known as the “Built to Learn Act.”
“This will be the largest investment in school construction in Maryland's history,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.
Under the plan, $2.2 billion in additional funding would go to school construction over several years.
It would be financed by bonds through the Maryland Stadium Authority. The debt would be paid by $125 million annually from casino revenue that goes to the state for education.
Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks highlighted the need by describing Forest Heights Elementary, a 90-year old school in her county where students and teachers had to relocate, because the building was considered unsafe.
“For those who were there to witness it, they could see that because of the emergency renovations that were underway, half the building was being held up by large hydraulic jacks,” Alsobrooks, a Democrat, said. “This is unbefitting of children in our school system.”
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner described the legislation as “the game changer.”
“Adequate and safe school facilities will support our children and allow them to thrive and achieve their potential, and it will support our state's economic development and ensure our future prosperity,” said Gardner, a Democrat.
Mathew Palmer, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's deputy legislative officer, also expressed support for the measure. Hogan also has made a school construction proposal.
“The administration's legislation and this bill would allow the state to address almost all of the annual funding requests from local school systems over the next five years,” Palmer wrote in a letter to the committee.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said Maryland's most populous county has struggled with enrollment growth and a need for school repairs. He also noted that Montgomery County has more than 165,000 students and is the 14th largest school district in the nation.
“We have a backlog in excess of $1.6 billion. About $800 million is in construction for capacity and modernization. The other $800 million is in renovations to schools,” Elrich said.
Education funding is a top issue of the state's legislative session. The school construction proposal is separate from a sweeping plan to spend billions of dollars over the next decade for needs inside the classroom.