By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed groundbreaking K-12 legislation this week, designed to overhaul Maryland’s public education systems at both the K-12 and higher education levels and address longstanding inequities.   

In his veto letter, Hogan cited “economic fallout from this (Covid-19) pandemic” as the reason for vetoing the $4 billion a year Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,  and $580 million HBCU legislation ending a long-standing court case in which state officials have defied an appellate court order to “make a reasonable settlement offer” with advocates for the state’s four HBCU’s.  

Reaction to the vetoes of both education bills came swiftly.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference on Friday, April 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md., where he outlined a plan to gradually phase in a reopening of businesses and activities that have been restricted in the state due to the coronavirus when it is safe to do so. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

 “We know that there are students across this State that are losing millions of hours of learning,” House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) said in a statement. 

“The result of this short-sighted action is Maryland will continue to graduate students that are not ready for the real world, Jones said of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future veto. 

Jones was also the principal architect behind this year’s HBCU legislation and expressed disappointment over Hogan’s continued unresponsiveness.   

“When the legislative session ended with the near unanimous approval of the HBCU funding, which within itself was a feat to be commended, we were hopeful the Governor would sign the bill thus righting the wrongs of the past and setting institutions like Morgan on a course to be competitive with any flagship university across the nation,” said Dr. David Wilson, Morgan’s president. “Never would we have expected he would veto the bill given the State’s more recent support of Maryland HBCUs, particularly Morgan. We are disappointed by the decision and view it as a missed opportunity.”

Dr. Wilson added the hope that the door for reconsideration remains open. 

“MSU is a jewel in our State’s crown. Additional investments in Morgan will return even greater dividends to our state that will have a generational ripple effect. Investment in Morgan is an investment in Maryland.”

The Governor’s move elicited more than enough disappointment to go around.

“He has shown a failure of both moral, intellectual and economic leadership at a time that is very, very dire for the most vulnerable Marylanders pre-pandemic, said House of Delegates Rep. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City) chair of Baltimore City’s House Delegation. 

“During the pandemic, he’s only heaping more suffering upon them and indifference to their quality of life,” Smith stated. 

It’s very disheartening that efforts to bring Maryland’s public schools into line with some of the top performing school systems around the country and around the world have been vetoed Baltimore City Teachers Union chair Christina Duncan Evans in a statement.  

“Allowing the bill to become law would have leveled the playing field for our HBCU’s said Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-PG County), chair of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus. Barnes rallied LBC members to ensure overwhelming support for the HBCU bill this year. 

“It’s a smack of disrespect in the face of historically black colleges and universities in the state of Maryland,” City Council President Brandon Scott said in response to Hogan’s veto of the HBCU legislation. 

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,  drafted in response to recommendations from the Kirwan Commission Report, was a 10-year,  multi-billion dollar plan to increase pre-kindergarten, balance inequities through expanded funding to high poverty and limited English proficient schools, increased teacher salaries and reinforced efforts to prepare students for college and career.  

State Senator Cory McCray, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee said the General Assembly had already created provisions to pay for the K-12 Education Blueprint bill through fees rather than taxes. 

 However, Hogan vetoed this measure as well as including charges on digital downloads from Netflix and video games, a new tax on vaping products and increased cigarette taxes. 

 “These are not property or personal income taxes” McCray stated in exasperation. 

Hogan sent warning signals last month that he would veto the education bills when he announced a statewide hiring and spending freeze.

“I want to be clear that it is very unlikely that any bills that require increased spending will be signed into law,” Hogan said at the April 10 press conference announcing measures taken in response to the Covic-19 pandemic. 

In addition to the Blueprint for Education and HBCU legislation, Hogan also vetoed several public safety and criminal justice bills including legislation to create a Law Enforcement Coordinating Council, an expungement measure, and legislation requiring background checks for persons buying rifles and shotguns from private transfer or sale.  

The Blueprint for Education and HBCU bills both passed the Maryland General Assembly during this year’s abbreviated session with a wide-enough margin to over-ride Hogan’s veto.  

The Maryland General Assembly can return this year and hold a special session or override Hogan’s vetoes during the next regularly scheduled session starting January  2021. State Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said he is consulting with Speaker Jones to determine how to move forward.