“Supercharged” School Construction – Pieces Falling into Place

A new way to spend $2.2 billion more school construction funding is on its way to passage in the House of Delegates, with the second reader completed. The amended bill divvies up the funding by percentages to certain counties in the State.

build to learnLegislation creating a large new funding program for school construction is advancing in the General Assembly. The bill that is headed toward passage in the General Assembly is a heavily amended version of legislation originally introduced, in ways that will greatly affect the distribution of $2.2 billion in funding.

Introducing the Build to Learn Act of 2019

Essentially, this is the third iteration of a major injection of school construction spending that the General Assembly has considered this year.

  • First, there was the Governor’s Building  Opportunity Act (HB 153), a broad-based program available to all school districts, using casino revenues in the Education Trust Fund to address up to 90% of school construction needs through projects approved by the Interagency Commission on School Construction and the Board of Public Works.
  • Then, there was Public School Construction – Maryland Stadium Authority – Supplemental Funds (HB 727). This legislation closely followed the Governor’s proposal, but identified lottery proceeds, not casino revenues as the funding source, and wrested control for funding allocations from the Board of Public Works.
  • Now, amendments striking 17 pages from HB 727 have been adopted by the House Appropriations Committee and House of Delegates, and the bill has a new name, “Build to Learn Act of 2019″ along with new contents defining the percentage of funding that county governments may be allocated in the new program.

These Seven Counties and “All Other Counties”

The amendments to HB 727 make a distinct change to the new funding program. As introduced, the Governor’s legislation and HB 727 were broad-based programs available to all counties based on a project-by-project review. The Build to Learn Act of 2019 changes the program, by codifying certain percentage distributions of the new funding to the State’s seven largest jurisdictions, while reserving the remaining $7.9 percent for projects from the State’s other seventeen counties.

The funding percentages, as stated in the Amendments are as follows:

(I) ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY – 11.4%;
(II) BALTIMORE CITY – 18.2%;
(III) BALTIMORE COUNTY – 18.2%;
(IV) FREDERICK COUNTY – 3.4%;
(V) HOWARD COUNTY – 4.5%;
(VI) MONTGOMERY COUNTY – 18.2%;
(VII) PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY – 18.2%; AND
(VIII) ALL OTHER COUNTIES – 7.9%

–Build to Learn Act of 2019 School Construction Funding Distributions

There are many variables that determine school construction funding needs for a jurisdiction over a five year period. The age of current facilities, current occupancy rates, projected enrollment increases or decreases, local construction costs are just a few.

In advance of the completion of a statewide facility assessment, the common reference for school construction needs is school construction funding requests made by local jurisdictions. Based on FY 2020 information in the Capital Improvement Program, here is a side-by-side comparison.

btl

Allowing Broader Eligible Costs for Small Counties

The amendments to HB 727 incorporate an idea from legislation pending in the General Assembly to broaden eligible costs for small counties endeavoring to build a large school construction project. Even as school construction has long been considered a shared responsibility between the Counties and the State, current law excepts up to 30% of a school construction project’s costs from State funding as ineligible. These costs become the sole responsibility of the local government, as an especially difficult burden for a small school district.

HB 534, Public Schools – State Aid for School Construction – Eligible Costs, was introduced by Delegate Ghrist and would have allowed architectural and engineering fees to be eligible for state school construction funding in limited cases. Generally, these fees, which have become more costly in recent years, are not eligible for any State funding.

From the HB 727 Amendments, some of this is incorporated into the “big” bill now:

(4) The Interagency Commission shall adopt regulations that include architectural, engineering, consulting, and other planning costs as eligible public school construction or capital improvement costs for a project or improvement that:

(I) Is located in a county that has less than 20,000 full-time equivalent enrollment as defined in § 5–202 of this title; and

(II) Has received local planning approval from the Interagency Commission.

Based on draft enrollment data used for the FY 2020 fiscal year education formulas, those counties with an enrollment of less than 20,000 full-time equivalent students qualifying for State support for architectural, engineering, and consulting fees include:

  • Allegany
  • Calvert
  • Caroline
  • Cecil
  • Dorchester
  • Garrett
  • Kent
  • Queen Anne’s
  • St. Mary’s
  • Somerset
  • Talbot
  • Wicomico
  • Worcester

Special Case Bill Raises Universal Concerns with State School Construction Funding

A Boost to the High Enrollment Relocatable Classrooms Grant

These amendments add funding to an existing grant program intended to provide additional State support to districts struggling with higher than average enrollment increases, or a high number of relocatable (portable, trailer) classrooms.

Current funding for the program is $40 million annually. These amendments continue the annual funding at $40 million until 2025. These amendments increase the funding to $80 million annually from the fiscal year 2026 into the future.

The idea for increasing funding to this program was also included in separate legislation this year, HB 668 Public School Construction – Maryland Stadium Authority – Montgomery County and Other School Systems With Significant Enrollment Growth would have increased the funding to $100 million beginning in the fiscal year 2021.

The amendments also lower the threshold for qualifying for the funding. Currently, a district must exceed 150% of the statewide average enrollment growth over the past five years, or have an average of more than 300 relocatable classrooms in use over the past five years. These amendments lower the threshold to 250 relocatable classrooms.

For the most part, Maryland’s larger counties have qualified for this grant program in the past several years. While Dorchester County received grant funding in FY 16 and 17, here is the fiscal year 2019 and 2020 list of grant recipients.

EGRC
EGRC is the abbreviation for the High Enrollment/Relocatable Classroom grant, which has primarily been awarded to larger jurisdictions based on the program’s qualifications.

Lowering the qualification to 250 relocatable classrooms from 300 may allow certain counties to receive program funding for a longer period of time. MACo has requested data on relocatable classrooms from the Public School Construction Program.

Bill Advancing With Almost No Debate

Comment during the House’s floor sessions on the Build to Learn Act has been extremely limited. Chair of the House Appropriations Committee presented the amendments to the bill without mention of the funding allocations. Delegate Szeliga ordered the vote on the bill to be held one day so the amendments could be reviewed. After the hold, the bill passed second reader, meaning there is one more vote in the House before it proceeds to the Senate.

For more information, see previous Conduit Street posts:

House Swaps School Construction Slice, Tops with Cherry

MACo Proposes Amendments to School Construction Bill to Enable Accessibility for All Counties

A Whole New Ballgame

 

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