(May 15, 2020) The Blueprint for America’s Future, commonly known as the Kirwan bill, was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan last week, thus sparing county governments the problem of trying to find ways to pay their share of the education improvement program when revenue is looking scarce.
The bill proposed a multi-billion-dollar revamp of Maryland’s public education funding based on the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. Some of the highlights of the ambitious package are free preschool for 3-and-4-year-olds living at 300 percent below the poverty level, a pay raise for teachers, college- and career-readiness standards, vocational education and allocated funding for counties.
The bill passed through the General Assembly just before it adjourned early on March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic. If Hogan had allowed the bill to pass, Worcester County would have had to make the largest financial contribution of all Maryland counties due to its high property tax base.
Both Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) and Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38 C) had voted against the bill during the legislative session, citing the high price tag, lack of local control and inability to address classroom environment issues.
Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino said he was not surprised that Hogan vetoed the education bill.
“I think the question now is whether or not his veto will be overridden by the Democratically controlled legislature,” Bertino said.
Legislative leaders stated in April that they would not reconvene in May, though they could reconvene later in the year.
Hogan’s veto is because the coronavirus pandemic could have a $2.8 billion effect on the state economy.
“The state budget and county budgets are really being stressed at this point and to have the weight of the uncertainty of Kirwan on us would be very, very challenging,” Bertino said.
He added that although he agreed with numerous aspects of Kirwan, Worcester County was already fulfilling those mandates and does an exceptional job of funding the public schools.
“It does much better than a lot of the jurisdictions across the state and I think that’s demonstrated by the fact that we spend more per student than any other jurisdiction, so I think we do a very good job,” Bertino said. “As I’ve said before, I think the state should let us our thing down here with regard to funding.”
He also thought it was sneaky of the legislature to pass the bill so close to the legislature’s adjournment.
“They got it in at the 11th hour, which was I thought was a little bit taking advantage of a very difficult situation,” Bertino said.
It’s likely that the bill will at least return to the legislature for the 2021 session, as the Democratic Party has stated it is a priority.
Hogan also vetoed two tax bills that were created to help pay for Kirwan – a tax on digital download and streaming and another on cigarettes and vaping.