Progress is Slow, But More Certain on School Construction

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Counties are major stakeholders in state school construction funding and policy. (L-R) Caroline County Commissioner Levengood, Talbot County Council Member Price, Frederick County Executive Gardner, and Prince George’s County Council Member Franklin testify in House Appropriations joined by MACo Research Director.

Legislation based on a statewide school construction Commission’s findings is introduced in the General Assembly, and it is off to a good start.

The 21st Century School Facility Commission’s work took place over two years, and the legislation, HB 1783, is a late-introduction in the 2018 Session. However a quickly-scheduled hearing that included much support indicates positive outlook for the bill – which includes many elements that have been the subject of MACo advocacy for more than 5 years.

Martin Knott, the Chair of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission called the legislation “an amazing step forward” and applauded his “Commission members who worked on this for two years.”

In response to a legislator’s question as to whether the Commission looked at square footage of school construction, Knott replied, “Over the course of two years. . . we looked at square inches.”

MACo’s panel and written testimony shared support for several aspects of the legislation, including:

  • New State school construction annual funding goal of $400 million
  • Regulatory relief from environmental and emergency sheltering mandates
  • Flexibility in use of alternative financing methods
  • Further study of eligible costs regulations and prevailing wage laws

Commissioner Levengood of Caroline County stated, “School construction costs have increased dramatically, as I’m sure you know. At the local level, we are seeing those effects throughout our counties in different ways. Progress can feel slow.”

MACo also suggested several amendments to the legislation, including advocating for a higher state commitment to school construction funding, clarifying maintenance of effort laws in relation to alternative financing, and bringing parity to state and local school construction funding through expanding the types of costs eligible for state funding.

While the bill’s annual goal of $400 million in  State school construction funding is a positive shift from the prior standard of $250 million/year, county budgeted expenditure for school capital has exceeded $600 million annually – since 2012.

The Chair of the House Appropriations Committee shared that she would be establishing a joint House-Senate work group to review all amendments to the legislation, in light of the approaching deadline for bills to cross over to the opposite house (March 19, 2018).