Gov. Larry Hogan is directing $210 million in federal funds toward improving remote learning and targeted tutoring, days before the Board of Public Works is scheduled to take up more than $100 million in education cuts his administration is proposing.
Of the $210 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money, $100 million would go to local school districts to buy devices for remote learning and improve connectivity, and another $100 million would go toward targeted tutoring for students in need.
The remaining $10 million will help improve broadband access in rural areas in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
“For six straight years, we have provided historically high state funding for our schools, while fighting for more accountability for Maryland parents, teachers, and taxpayers, and working to achieve better results for our children,” Hogan said in a statement.
In another statement, State Superintendent Karen Salmon said the funds were focused on students who have been impacted the most during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed “[l]ong-standing gaps in educational opportunity and access.”
Last week, the governor dispersed another $45.6 million in CARES Act money, including $10 million to upgrade broadband access in rural areas, $5 million to bolster broadband in urban areas, $10 million to help all 24 school systems better implement remote learning, $10 million on workforce development through local community colleges, $10 million in grant funds and more than $650,000 to set up remote learning at the Maryland School for the Blind and the Maryland School for the Deaf.
Today’s announcement comes four days after Hogan proposed reducing the budget by $1.45 billion in response to the toll the pandemic has taken on Maryland’s economy. Nick Pepersack, spokesman for the Department of Budget and Management, told The Sun the reductions were based on “a conservative estimate of our expected revenue losses.”
The Board of Public Works is scheduled to take up $672 million of the cuts at its meeting on July 1. In addition to Hogan, the board includes Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
Of the money on the chopping block, $110.8 million is earmarked for education, according to a tally from the Maryland State Education Association, a union representing educators, administrators and other school employees
The bulk of the money, $71.8 million, would come from the state’s contribution to teacher retirement funds. Another $12.4 million would be cut from grants targeted for poorer districts. Approximately $25 million would be slashed from other programs, according to the union.
The Hogan administration has proposed cutting an additional $233.9 million in the future, slashing aid to school districts by $201 million and capital improvements to school buildings by $32 million. Those would need to be passed as a budget reconciliation act during the next legislative session, the union said.
Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost, a Baltimore County elementary school teacher, called the proposed reductions “unconscionable” in a statement last week.
“Crisis distance learning this spring has deepened inequities and achievement gaps among our students—and the governor’s cuts would only make them far worse,” she said.
During a Facebook Live meeting with members on Monday afternoon, Bost said today’s announcement amounted to Hogan and Salmon turning in Congress’ homework with their names on it.
In the next academic year, schools will be asked to conduct remote classes, in-class instruction with personal protective equipment and restrictions, or a hybrid of the two, and all those scenarios require more educators and more supplies, Bost said during the meeting.
“We’re going to need more of a lot of things, especially to address the inequities. And he’s looking to cut the funding for our schools.”