ANNAPOLIS — On the last day of the Maryland General Assembly session on April 8, the Build To Learn Act, which would have given millions in extra funding to Prince George’s County to build 18 new schools, was not passed.
According to County Executive Angela Alsobrooks’ Deputy Chief Of Staff John Erzen, the county executive has been optimistic that the legislation would pass.
“I think anytime you’re in Annapolis, you always have the optimism,” Erzen said Monday afternoon. “Certainly Ms. Alsobrooks and our delegation here in Annapolis, as well as our superintendent, have fought very hard to get the legislation passed and advocating for it. And we certainly hope by the end of the session that it will pass and we will be able to start talking about things we will be able to do with the additional funding.”
The bill was passed overwhelmingly in the Maryland House of Delegates 133-3 on March 18. The legislation would have been vital to Prince George’s County because the county would have gotten the largest amount of money out of any county.
Out of the $2.2 billion available in total, Prince George’s County would have received $1.8 billion to go towards the renovation and building of new schools. The school system had plans to build 18 schools by 2026 and use a Public-Private Partnership (P3) model to go forward with the process.
Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) proposed the innovative P3 model because it would allow them to build schools faster at a much lower cost.
The House and Senate voted on bills for several hours on Monday night. However, the last action taken on the Build To Learn Act by the Senate was a public hearing on March 27.
County Executive Alsobrooks and PGCPS Interim CEO Monica Goldson have been active in advocating for the extra funding. Alsobrooks attended the hearing to give her support for the bill and urge the Senate to pass it.
“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?”
Alsobrooks called education “the great civil rights issue of our day” and emphasized the need for this funding in Prince George’s County for these schools. The county has an $8.5 billion backlog in school construction needs, and the schools are the second oldest in the state, nearly five years older than the state average, she said.
“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,” she said. “It is the first priority of our state constitution, frames very clearly that the first obligation of government is to fund education. We ask not that we do it tomorrow or the year after that or the year after that. The truth of the matter is we need it right here and right now.”
Governor Larry Hogan was also supportive of the bill. In December, he put forward a proposal for the Building Opportunity Act, a similar idea which the Build To Learn Act was modeled after. He encouraged the passing of the bill in the Senate after it was passed in the House as it “puts us one step closer to making the largest investment in school construction – ever – in Maryland history.”
Erzen said Prince George’s County is one of the top counties with the number of students on free and reduced meals, the number of students with disabilities and the number of students with English as a second language, so the extra funding would help to increase the quality of services that PGCPS can provide to students.
“We’re educating a very diverse population with some specific needs so we feel that we always have a strong case to make in Annapolis for additional funding and that’s something that we will continue to do,” Erzen said.
“If this bill does not pass, this is something we will continue to do even if it does not pass because as they move forward with the Kirwan funding and the Kirwan formulas, be it this year or next, we want to make sure Prince George’s County is in mind to make sure we receive our fair share.”
Heavily supported by the entire school system, especially with the March For Our Schools at the end of March, the Blueprint For Maryland’s Future implements recommendations set forth by the Kirwan Commission by increasing funding for Maryland’s schools by $1 billion over the next two fiscal years. During fiscal year 2020, funding will increase by $325 million and $750 million will be given for fiscal year 2021.