The 2020 Built to Learn Act would drive an additional $2.2 billion in school construction funding, by leveraging casino “lockbox” revenues for bonds.
Legislation creating a large new funding program for school construction has been introduced for the second year in the General Assembly. The 2020 bill has many similarities to last year and additionally, pulls recommendations from the 2019 Workgroup on the Assessment and Funding of School Facilities. The Built to Learn Act 2020 has many of the same big picture ideas as legislation from the 2019 Session including leveraging casino “lockbox” funds to pay debt service, providing $2.2B in additional school construction funding to be used within the next 10 years, and having the Maryland Stadium Authority be the State conduit to manage and oversee these new projects.
History of School Construction and Build to Learn
In November, Maryland’s legislative leaders announced that moving education forward for Maryland would be a priority of the Maryland General Assembly. Following is a little history on school construction legislation in the past year.
- Last year, 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.
- Also last year, 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. This legislation turned into the first “Build to Learn Act.” The legislation was heavily amended and passed by the House of Delegates, but stalled in the Senate.
These Six Counties, Prince George’s, and “All Other Counties”
The Built to Learn Act of 2020 codifies certain percentage distributions of the new funding to six of the State’s largest jurisdictions, while reserving the remaining 11.5 percent for projects from the State’s other counties. For the 2020 bill, Prince George’s County is on a separate track which would leverage public-private partnerships to accelerate as a pilot program.
The funding percentages, as stated in the 2020 Built to Learn Act are as follows:
(I) ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY – 12.5%;
(II) BALTIMORE CITY – 21.0%;
(III) BALTIMORE COUNTY – 21.0%;
(IV) FREDERICK COUNTY – 5.1%;
(V) HOWARD COUNTY – 6.6%;
(VI) MONTGOMERY COUNTY – 21.0%; AND
(VII) ALL OTHER COUNTIES – 11.9%
–Built to Learn Act of 2020 School Construction Funding Distributions
There are many variables that determine school construction funding needs for a jurisdiction including the current facilities, current occupancy rates, projected enrollment increases or decreases, local construction costs. New to the 2020 Built to Learn Act is a statute that would revise the state school construction funding percentages every two years.
As was the same in the 2019 bill, the statewide facility assessment has yet to be completed and the when published, the results will be factored into selection by Fiscal Year 2024.
A Boost to the High Enrollment Relocatable Classrooms Grant
The Built to Learn Act adds funding to the existing Capital Grant Program for Local School Systems With Significant Enrollment Growth or Relocatable Classrooms 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 and this bill would continue the annual funding at $40 million until FY 2026. In FY 2027, there would be an increase in funding to $80 million annually into the future.
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. The 2020 bill lowers the threshold to 250 relocatable classrooms. Lowering the qualification to 250 relocatable classrooms from 300 may allow certain counties to receive program funding for a longer period of time.
Funding Flexibility for Smaller Counties
The bill also, like the version that passed the House last year, affords a more complete definition of “eligible costs” for the state share, for projects in smaller counties – those with fewer than 20,000 students.
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:
- Queen Anne’s
- St. Mary’s
As of January 15, there is not set hearing for either House Bill 1 or Senate Bill 1. Most stakeholders expect that the discussion around HB1/SB1 will become practically connected to that surrounding the still-unseen Kirwan Commission legislation to enhance state and local school funding for the next decade and beyond.