Gov. Larry Hogan today announced legislation to create an office of the state education inspector general to look into complaints on illegal and unethical conduct by school administrators, as well as $2.5 million in discretionary funding from the state’s Catastrophic Event Account to fix the “immediate, horrendous, failing HVAC systems crisis” in Baltimore.
“Let me be clear: This is not to reward the people responsible who have failed, this funding is literally about saving kids from freezing in winter, and from sweating and being hospitalized during the warm weather,” Hogan said at a press conference.
While he did commend Mayor Catherine Pugh for bringing in city engineers to work on the broken HVAC systems over the weekend, Hogan slammed Baltimore City Public Schools, citing a report in The Sun that the system has returned millions in state funding for repairs.
He said the projects “have been repeatedly prioritized and have been repeatedly funded by the state, and then completely mismanaged by the city school system.”
The school system has challenged that report. In a Jan. 5 letter written to The Sun, Cheryl A. Casciani, chair of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, said other school systems use state money to reimburse funds they have already spent on repairs.
“Here in Baltimore City, we don’t have that luxury,” Casciani wrote. “We ask the state for dollars based on estimates of what projects will cost in the future, leading to challenges particularly when the state provides dollars in increments over time.”
This afternoon, Mayor Pugh released the following statement: “I applaud and thank Governor Larry Hogan for this additional allocation of $2.5 million from the State’s emergency discretionary fund to help us ensure that our schools are heated sufficiently and provide the environment worthy of our young people. They, who represent our future, deserve and require only the very best environment in which to learn, interact and develop their potential.
“The circumstances of the past few days have revealed a woeful lack of attention over many years to dealing with the infrastructure issues that required the Baltimore City Public School System to close schools due to frigid temperatures. We can and must do better by our children while at the same time being fully transparent about how taxpayer dollars are being spent to provide our children the very best path to success.”
Hogan also used his press conference to defend his funding of Baltimore City Public Schools, saying his administration has given city schools $2.85 billion over the course of three years — three-and-a-half times more than the average district in the state.
A commission is still investigating the formula by which the state calculates how much money to distribute to school districts.
The governor also criticized the city only using 10 percent of its general fund spending on schools in its most recent budget.
“The city itself has drastically underfunded their schools, while the state has consistently bailed them out,” he said.
On the whole, education in the state is in a bit of a crisis, according to Hogan, with systems “consistently and persistently failing” students. He pointed to investigations of former Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas Dance, as well as his successor, Verletta White, over payments from a consulting firm that received school contracts; a grade-fixing scandal in Prince George’s County; reports of Baltimore students failing to meet proficiency standards (as the Baltimore Beat notes, this is also true in some of the state’s highest-performing districts); and a years-old story about improper use of credit cards by members of the Montgomery County school board as examples of impropriety.
Under the legislation creating the inspector general office, known as the Accountability in Education Act, the position would be independently appointed by a commission made up of appointees from the governor, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch. It includes subpoena powers to investigate school systems for unethical and improper conduct.
The governor also announced another bill, the Protect Our Students Act, that places greater weight on academic performance when measuring school quality. It would raise standards set by the Protect Our Schools Act from last year, which Hogan vetoed. The General Assembly overrode his veto.