ANNAPOLIS — County Executive Angela Alsobrooks testified before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in support of the Build to Learn Act of 2019, which would give Prince George’s County an extra $1.8 billion to build 18 new schools, on March 27.
The Build to Learn Act overwhelmingly passed in the Maryland House of Delegates, 133 to three, on Monday, March 18.
The Act is modeled after Governor Larry Hogan’s Building Opportunity Act, which he announced in December. Hogan’s proposal put forward a total of $3.5 billion in additional funding for public school construction over the next five years; $1.9 billion in new funding paired with the $1.6 billion in public school construction funding currently included in the state’s five year Capital Improvement Program. The proposed funding would have come out of revenue bonds funded by casino gaming revenues.
The Build to Learn Act is a larger version of the Building Opportunity Act, putting forward a total of $2.2 billion in new construction funding to go towards Maryland’s public schools. It will provide the state an additional $25-30 million in school construction funding per year for 30 years.
Following the House of Delegates vote, Hogan voiced his support for the historic legislation.
“Repairing our aging schools is vital to ensuring the children in our state receive a world-class education, which is our administration’s top priority,” Hogan said. “Today’s action puts us one step closer to making the largest investment in school construction – ever – in Maryland history. We have already done more than any previous administration has to invest in school construction, and now we need to build on this historic commitment.”
Alsobrooks joined other county executives from Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, Frederick County and Baltimore County in advocating for the passing of the Build To Learn Act.
“I think where I begin is to say it is not only historic, but I regard it as courageous as well,” she said. “What we understand is that education is the great civil rights issue of our day and in Prince George’s County the need couldn’t be greater.”
During her testimony, Alsobrooks emphasized the obligation to provide students an ideal classroom environment that encourages learning.
“So this is really what this is about for us, it is a civil rights issue as I mentioned, but it is just the right of our students. It is the first priority of our state constitution, frames very clearly that the first obligation of government is to fund education.”
She called education “the great civil rights issue of our day” and said the need for the passing of this bill could not be greater as Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has an $8 billion backlog of school construction needs and has the second oldest schools in Maryland. As of 2005, Prince George’s County schools were nearly five years older than the state average, according to Alsobrooks.
“If we think about the obligations that we have, what could be more important than funding the education of our children and that for us, is simply what this is about, first class classrooms and facilities for first class children.”
PGCPS Interim CEO Monica Goldson also voiced her support for the legislation that day in a statement emphasizing the impact the extra funding will have, in addition to the money that will be given with the Kirwan Commission’s Blueprint For Maryland’s Future on Prince George’s County schools if passed.
“This infrastructure investment paired with the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which helps implement the Kirwan Commission recommendations, is a bold statement that shows Maryland values every student in every grade, classroom and neighborhood,” Goldson said.
Out of the $2.2 billion in the Build to Learn Act, Prince George’s County will receive $1.8 billion for new and renovated schools throughout the county, Goldson said. The significant funding over the next seven years will allow PGCPS to build 18 schools by 2026 through a Public-Private Partnership (P3) model.
“We have proposed an innovative public-private partnership that will allow us to build schools faster and at a much lower cost,” Goldson said. “Working with County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, we have been vocal in our support of a legislative proposal that provides $1.8 billion in capital investments for new and renovated schools throughout the county.”
Through the P3 model, PGCPS will be able to use a private partner who will finance, build and maintain the schools that they build, allowing the school system “to jumpstart our construction project and allow us to build first-class schools for our children,” Alsobrooks said. Additionally, it will save $180 million in construction costs.
“We ask not that we do it tomorrow or the year after that or the year after that,” Alsobrooks said. “The truth of the matter is we need it right here and right now. The cost of construction goes up every year, so it does not benefit us to wait. The cost of construction goes up, and the needs continue to grow, so we ask that we fund this now.”