Let the (Real) School Construction Law Work Begin

Today the joint House – Senate Work Group on the 21st Century School Facilities Act will hold its second meeting, and likely begin to make amendments to form the final Act.

For the past two years, the 21st Century School Facilities Commission has met, its membership delving deeply into the financial, procedural, and physical elements of school construction in Maryland. And, this fall that Commission assembled a Report summarizing their work. And, during this legislative session, that Report was translated, some would say imperfectly, into legislation.

But now – in some respects – the real work begins. A small collection of Senators and Delegates will hash through the legislation as introduced, and begin to mark it up with changes that will likely be the final version of the law that passes. Their first meeting, held last week, including a walk through of the bill and some discussion. The March 20 meeting may see some amendments, already being circulated, come to light.

Both State and County governments have much at stake in school construction – it is a top capital budget item for each. Urging to State to bring its funding in line with current costs has been part of MACo’s advocacy over the past several years, and is stated in MACo’s testimony.

While a $400 million annual goal for State school construction funding is a move in the right direction, county governments regularly provide more than $600 million annually to school construction.

MACo’s testimony on the 21st Century School Facilities Act also shared support for revisions to current law that would increase efficiencies and reduce regulation. However, MACo is also advocating for certain amendments to the legislation.

MACo’s amendments seek to do the following:

  1. Ensure county approval for alternative financing arrangements even as the bill expands authorities for school boards and establish that lease payments for school facilities are outside state education funding laws.
  2. Remove the bill’s index/ranking of school facilities and its creation of sufficiency standards (there may be other ways to approach this issue that other education stakeholders set forth, and MACo may be open to other suggestions).
  3. Delete the idea that systemic renovations would no longer be eligible for State funding and add consideration for furnishings, technology, and site costs as eligible for State funding.
  4. Establish that forward funding by counties is repaid to counties.
  5. Add to the description of the prevailing wage study to include examination of a return to a 50% state funding threshold.

For more information about these suggestions, see MACo’s testimony.

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