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Lawmakers Create 'Escape Hatch' In School Overhaul Plan

Rachel Baye

A landmark state education reform bill cleared a key hurdle Wednesday night as it passed out of two Senate committees.

The bill reflects the recommendations of what’s known as the Kirwan Commission, a state panel that spent three years studying how to make Maryland’s schools globally competitive.

But on Wednesday, the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee added what one member called an “escape hatch” that could reverse the changes after five years.

The reforms phase in over a decade, at the end of which, they are expected to cost roughly $4 billion a year. The first few years are funded, and lawmakers are considering proposals to pay for the rest.

But if in five years, the state is short $100 million or more, or if an independent board determines that the changes are not improving educational outcomes as expected, the rest of the plan won’t kick in.

Baltimore Sen. Mary Washington was the only committee member to vote against the provision. She called it “an escape hatch,” and said it raises questions about lawmakers’ commitment to the reforms.

The provision allows the legislature to continue to underfund the schools, she said.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, the committee chair, said it’s pragmatic.

“We need revenue to complete the process,” he said, adding that he is personally committed to finding the funding before the five-year mark, even if that means raising taxes.

The bill could get a vote in the full Senate as early as Friday. If the Senate passes the bill, members will have to iron out differences with the House, which passed its own version last week, before it can go to Gov. Larry Hogan, who has criticized the plan as too expensive.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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