By BRIAN WITTE, Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans on Tuesday to create a $3.5 billion fund for school construction over five years.
Much of the money will be available as the result of a constitutional amendment Maryland voters approved last month. It requires the state’s portion of casino revenue set aside for education to be used to enhance spending on schools above current state funding formulas.
“I happen to believe very strongly that every single child in our state deserves access to a world-class education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in, and an important part of that is making sure that our students are educated in facilities that are modern, safe and efficient and which provide them with an environment that encourages growth,” Hogan said at a news conference at Highland Park Elementary School in Landover, Maryland.
“We want to make sure that schools have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, that they fully meet the 21st century needs of Maryland students, teachers and taxpayers.”
Last winter, a cold spell exposed the poor state of school buildings in many big-city districts, including Baltimore, where the failure of heating systems closed dozens of institutions due to frigid classrooms.
While the governor said progress had been made in the state’s largest city as well as statewide in addressing school infrastructure concerns, he said his new proposal will be made in legislation next month to create a Building Opportunity Fund.
Hogan said the measure will dedicate about $2 billion from revenues resulting from the constitutional amendment with revenue bonds. That will be in addition to public school construction funding now in the state’s five-year Capital Improvement Program.
“The state already has received $3.7 billion in funding requests, including requests for upgrades and repairs to some of our aging schools,” Hogan said. “With this new Building Opportunity Fund, we will be able to fulfill nearly all of those local funding requests.”
The Republican governor also estimated the proposal would create about 27,000 new construction jobs over the next five years.
Education funding is shaping up to be a major issue in the next legislative session. A state commission has been working on recommendations to increase K-12 schools spending. The panel is aiming to have a final report before lawmakers begin their session on Jan. 9.
Last week, the panel released preliminary estimates that set a price tag of about $4.4 billion in increased spending per year about a decade from now, but that figure could change in the final report.