Controversial education bill passed in Md. Senate, despite Hogan veto threat

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ANNAPOLIS, MD – MARCH 22: Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, Jr. leads the Senate session on March 22. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

An education bill that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has promised to veto passed the Democratic-controlled Senate on Tuesday with a veto-proof majority, despite Hogan’s warning that it is “designed to hide the failures of school leaders and administrators.”

The bill now heads to the House of Delegates, where lawmakers must reconcile the version they passed by a veto-proof margin earlier this month with changes made in the Senate.

The legislation, which is backed by the state teachers’ union and opposed by the state Board of Education, sets up an accountability system for rating schools and prohibits the state board from using vouchers and charters as a way to fix failing schools.

It was created in response to the federal Every Students Succeeds Act, which gives the state board the authority to create a new accountability system for school performance.

The Senate amended the bill to say 65 percent of a school’s “accountability rating” should be based on academic indicators such as standardized testing, student achievement, student growth and graduation, compared to 55 percent in the original version.

Several opponents of the bill, including Minority Whip Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Kent) argued that the rate is still too low and will make “Maryland a leader in deprioritizing student achievement.”

The Senate debate over the bill centered around school choice and the movement to privatize public schools, and included a mini-filibuster by Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R), who began reading the 380-page federal law on the Senate floor to forestall a vote.

“We want to ensure Maryland doesn’t become a Michigan,” Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), said referring to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ push for charter schools in her home state.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to a bill that requires the state to reimburse Planned Parenthood for health-care services it provides if Congress cuts federal funding for the organization.

If Hogan signs the measure, Maryland would become the first state in the country to address the possible defunding of Planned Parenthood.

“Today we made sure that no matter what happens in Washington, Maryland will ensure that all women have access to health services, especially those who have historically faced barriers to quality health care,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), the bill sponsor.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor has consistently funded health care organizations in his budget but hasn’t taken a position on the legislation. This year, the federal government provided $2.7 million in reimbursements to Planned Parenthood offices in Maryland.

The Senate also gave preliminary approval Tuesday to substantial changes it made in Hogan’s plan to increase manufacturing jobs in distressed areas of the state, including Baltimore City, Allegany and Worcester counties.

The House and Senate passed an amended version of the governor’s $43 billion operating budget, which moves next to the governor’s desk.

The revised budget restores nearly two-thirds of the $116 million in annual spending requirements that Hogan had proposed trimming, including $8.4 million to increase state reimbursement rates for care providers who work with the developmentally disabled; $5 million for college scholarships for students from poor school districts; $3 million to extend library hours in Baltimore; and $6 million in local aid for that city and other jurisdictions that receive relatively little revenue from income taxes.

The budget also restores $3 million to help cover the cost of giving new teachers additional hours to be mentored, plan lessons and observe more experienced teachers; and to provide extra pay to educators who meet national teaching standards.

The legislature approved $82.5 million of the combined $95 million that the governor requested in two supplemental budgets, including all of the $28 million he requested to help schools in Baltimore and other jurisdictions with declining enrollment. The plans also boost funding for neighborhood revitalization, community colleges, combating the heroin and opioid epidemic and economic-development initiatives.

Lawmakers deferred $2 million of the state’s $51 million in mandatory funding for the Prince George’s Regional Medical Center until fiscal 2019. Hogan’s plan would have delayed $15 million for later years.

Tuesday’s budget votes marked the second straight year of the Hogan administration that the Democratic-majority legislature has passed a spending plan with relative ease. In Hogan’s first year in office, 2015, the deliberations dragged on until the final hours of the legislative session, with lawmakers ultimately refusing to fund some of the governor’s requests and Hogan vowing not to release money they had earmarked for their priorities.

“I really felt this year, for the first time, that his staff was more hands-on in terms of working with the budget committee,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore).

The fiscal plan leaves about $1 billion in reserves, including $860 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

The Senate unanimously approved two bills aimed at addressing the state’s opioid addiction through treatment and education.

One of the bills would establish at least 10 crisis-treatment centers and request an increase in funding to expand drug-court programs. The other would require public schools to keep overdose-reversal drugs on hand, allow school nurses to give the drug and require colleges to educate incoming students about substance abuse.

The measures are now headed to the House.

A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that 34 percent of Maryland residents have a family member or close friend who is addicted to prescription pain pills or heroin.

via Washington Postmarylandmap2

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