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LANDOVER — Gov. Larry Hogan announced his new Building Opportunity Fund, an initiative that will provide $3.5 billion to school construction across the state of Maryland, and will significantly address school construction projects in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), on Dec. 11.
At a press conference that took place at Highland Park Elementary School, Hogan convened with County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, PGCPS Interim CEO Monica Goldson, Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton, a number of other state officials and representative from the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) to announce the historic initiative to fund school construction projects around the state.
“I happen to believe very strongly that every single child in our state deserves access to a world-class education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” Hogan said. “One of the most important parts of that is making sure that our students are educated in facilities that are modern, safe and efficient and which provide them with an environment that encourages growth.”
The Building Opportunity Fund, which Hogan will submit during the 2019 session of the Maryland General Assembly, will provide $1.9 billion to fund school construction over the next five years. It is in addition to the $1.6 billion in funding dedicated to public school construction that is already in the state’s five-year Capital Improvement Program.
Altogether, the funds will provide about $3.5 billion to school construction over the next five years.
The funding will be coming from revenue bonds created by casino gaming revenues. The legislation was passed during the 2018 session that produced a ballot initiative in the November election to ensure that casino revenues throughout Maryland went directly towards additional revenue for education.
“Thanks to an overwhelming majority of Maryland voters that just went out to the polls last month, we are also creating this lockbox to ensure, as the county executive said, that all casino revenue will go directly into classrooms which was originally promised more than a decade ago,” Hogan said.
According to Hogan, this initiative represents the largest investment in school construction in Maryland history.
“I have to say what a marvelous thing it is for us to begin today having conversations about what really is the most important issue in Prince George’s County at this time, and that is the education of our children,” Alsobrooks said.
According to Thornton, it has not yet been determined how much of the funds will be given to PGCPS, but it will be a substantial amount that will ultimately move up construction projects in the school systems’ Capital Improvement Plan benefiting schools throughout the county, especially the older school buildings in the inner beltway area.
“All of our areas of the county, the north, the central and the southern part of the county, they all have significant renovation needs that have to be addressed. That is an immediate concern,” Thornton said.
In the case of Highland Park Elementary School, through the new funding, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning structures of the building will be replaced.
However, PGCPS has a $2-4 billion backlog of repairs that need to be made to its schools, Alsobrooks said, many of which require a lot more work than Highland Park.
School construction is one of the two main funding issues that the school system faces at this point, Alsobrooks said. PGCPS also educates the most disabled, English as a second language and free and reduced lunch students in the state which the school system plans to address with the help of the Kirwan Commission.
“We’re anticipating and hoping that the Kirwan Commission will build upon the commission that’s named after me, the formula which drives funding to the most needy student populations in the state,” Thornton said.
“So the state formula should drive funding to those particular areas and if we get the funds driven in that way, we will get a substantial amount of, or the second largest amount of the Kirwan funding, as we did in the Thornton funding.”
The funding requests for the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission will be submitted to the General Assembly to take action on it before by April of 2019. This, with the addition of funding at the county level, Thornton said he hopes to get the adequate funding that PGCPS needs.
“I want to thank the governor for being here and helping us address what is without a doubt the key priority of our administration and that is to ensure that every child in Prince George’s County is able to not only has an adequate education but to do so in buildings and facilities that befit them, that speak to their dignity and tell them how valuable they are to us,” Alsobrooks said.
Additionally, the new projects, managed by the Maryland Stadium Authority, will create an estimated 27,000 construction jobs over the next five years.
“Whether it’s roads, bridges or schools, Governor Hogan’s construction proposals have the potential to create jobs for local Maryland residents,” said Dennis Martire, vice president and Regional manager of LiUNA Mid-Atlantic. “Our involvement wound ensure these are good jobs where local workers are earning family-supporting pay and benefits.”
Education has been a top priority of this administration, Hogan said. They have fully funded education in all jurisdictions four years in a row, invested a record $25 billion in K-12 education and have already invested $1.4 billion in school construction.
Over the last four years, they have built and rebuilt 124 schools across the state and helped to make renovations and improvements to even more schools.
Through the 21st Century Schools Program, which Hogan hopes to replicate with the Building Opportunity Fund, 28 schools were opened in Baltimore City over the last few years with five schools opening within one week
The Building Opportunity Initiative is the next step in their effort to improve schools throughout Maryland.
Public officials such as Senator Bill Ferguson and Maryland State Educators Association Spokesman Steven Hershkowtiz have expressed support for the new initiative with Delegate Eric Luedtke calling it “a fantastic and long overdue investment in our schools.”
“This innovative program is about our kids and their futures,” Hogan said. “It’s about giving every Maryland child the opportunities that they expect, the tools that they need and the safe and modern school facilities that they deserve.”