Under Veto Threat, Senate Advances Bill to Limit School Reforms

Under a veto threat from Governor Larry Hogan, the Maryland Senate passed a bill Tuesday to limit how the state defines and takes over struggling schools.

The House and Senate would need to work out the differences in their versions before sending the bill to Governor Hogan, who has vowed to veto it. Both chambers, however, passed the bill with enough votes to override a veto.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

Advocates pressed for the legislation as a way to prevent the governor and state school board from enacting controversial reforms Hogan recommended as Maryland seeks to meet new federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Among the most hotly contested issues were whether the General Assembly should forbid the state school board from putting all failing schools into a single “reform” district, turning those struggling public schools into charters or granting their students vouchers to attend private schools.

In addition to saying the bill thwarts the executive branch’s authority, Hogan said it jeopardizes nearly $250 million in federal aid for the state’s poorest schools, a scenario first raised by the nonpartisan legislative analysts that advise the General Assembly.

Supporters of the bill say they believe the plan would be compliant with the federal law and the funds wouldn’t be at risk.

They say they must act now, before the Maryland State Board of Education adopts policies that lawmakers dislike in advance of a September deadline to comply with federal law. Top advocates say they’re setting broad policy and leaving details to the school board, likening the measure to “guard rails” that would take the most controversial options for helping struggling schools off the table.

The lengthy and complicated legislation defines how much the state should rely on testing when determining if schools are failing. It also rules out letting private operators take over public schools at the state’s direction.

Under the federal education law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, the state must identify the Maryland’s most persistently struggling schools, including the bottom 5 percent of schools with high poverty rates known as Title I schools and high schools that don’t graduate at least two-thirds of their students.

Hogan said in a statement that hamstringing state education experts, as he says the state legislation would do for political reasons, is a “moral outrage” that is “designed to hide the failures of school leaders and administrators who have been operating these schools for years at the expense of the very children they claim to be serving.

“Every child in Maryland deserves a great education, regardless of which neighborhood they happen to grow up in, but this legislation would make that nearly impossible,” Hogan said.

Republicans attempted to filibuster debate in the Senate, with the Minority Leader J.B. Jennings attempting to read more than 380 pages of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Democrats used their super-majority to vote to limit debate after more than an hour of discussion.

Useful Links

The Baltimore Sun Article

House Bill 978 / Senate Bill 871