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ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks testified before the Maryland General Assembly House Appropriations Committee in support of several bills that would support school construction across Maryland and in Prince George’s County, including Gov. Larry Hogan’s Building Opportunity Fund, on Feb. 28.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there are few bills in Annapolis as important as the bills that we are considering,” she said.
“I think we all agree that education truly is the civil rights issue of our day so the work we’re doing as far as school construction and education funding is so critically important and I could not stress how important it is not only to Prince George’s County, but I think by our presence we recognize that this issue is important all across the state.”
The Building Opportunity Fund, which Hogan announced in early December, puts forward a total of about $3.5 billion, an extra $1.8 billion in addition to the $1.6 billion already in the state’s Capital Improvement Program, to school construction across the state of Maryland.
The fund will also significantly address school construction projects in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), which has an $8 billion backlog in renovation, repairs and new construction projects.
“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 of the program during the announcement.
“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 need is great across Maryland, Alsobrooks said, particularly in Prince George’s County, which is in the top three oldest school facilities in the state. As of 2005, Prince George’s County schools were nearly five years older than the state average, and the deviation has only increased over that time.
“So we have aging buildings where we expect our children to learn and I think it’s fair to say that the critical needs that we have, plumbing, roofing, electrical system, ventilation, really do add up to a situation where air quality, noise, all of these things add up for our students,” Alsobrooks said.
The funding for the Building Opportunity Fund will be coming from revenue bonds created by casino gaming revenues.
Legislation was passed during the 2018 session that created a ballot initiative in the November election to ensure that casino revenues throughout Maryland went directly towards additional revenue for education.
“Education has always been the administration’s top priority and this legislation represents the largest investment in public school construction ever in the history in Maryland,” said Deputy Legislative Officer for the Hogan Administration Mathew Palmer.
According to Palmer, the projects would be ranked by the Interagency Commission on School Construction (IAC) and would be put in the order that they see fit for completion.
Some of the funds will be available to use through the revolving loan program created last year which each county could apply for if they do not have the funds available right now. Although the bill says the Maryland Stadium Authority will be the construction manager on all projects, counties can opt to run their own programs.
County leaders came in testimony of several bills that were on the table for school construction in Baltimore County, Montgomery County and Baltimore City. PGCPS Interim CEO Monica Goldson came to testify in support of another bill that would specifically target construction in PGCPS.
“We believe on the more conservative side we believe we will be able to save approximately $180 million in maintenance costs just by adding that feature in our required bill in that P3 model,” she said.
“It also allows us 6,600 new seats and will eventually impact 17,400 seats across our school district. We are extremely overcrowded in certain portions of our district and continuing to expand pre-k and class size is limited without the constructions funds.”
Goldson called this bill, House Bill 1402, “unique” because the intention is for PGCPS to use its Public-Private partnership Model, or P3 model, as alternative funding to complete multiple school construction projects.
It will allow PGCPS to be able to build 18 schools by 2026; one high school, eight middle schools and nine elementary schools, Goldson said.
“I am just so proud to be here not just to address the needs of Prince George’s County’s children, but the truth is these are Maryland’s children, and that is the reason why we sit together,” Alsobrooks said. “We are not only concerned about how well our children learn, but the truth of the matter is we are all called to be concerned about all children in Maryland and I’m really proud this is a joint effort to put our kids first.”