Bills Remove Critical Oversight of Billions in School Construction Funding, Protect Bad Teachers Charged with Misconduct from Termination

ANNAPOLIS, MD –Governor Larry Hogan today vetoed two bills that undermine critical oversight and accountability of Maryland public schools. The legislation, passed by the Maryland General Assembly and presented early to the governor, includes House Bill 1783, which would strip oversight over school construction funding from the state’s top fiscal leaders, and Senate Bill 639, which would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the process of removing teachers charged with misconduct.

HB 1783 removes the historic oversight from the Board of Public Works, comprised of the governor, the comptroller, and the treasurer, over billions of dollars in school construction funds and gives it to the Interagency Commission on School Construction (IAC). The IAC is an unelected, unaccountable body consisting of political appointees, which have historically included lobbyists and individuals with potential conflicts of interest.

“At a time when Marylanders are crying out for more accountability, more oversight, and more transparency in education spending, the legislature ignored those pleas. I can only assume that some legislators had no idea what they were voting on when their party leaders forced them to cast this horrible vote. But let me be very clear: anyone who votes to override this veto will be voting against transparency, against accountability in education, against fiscal responsibility, and against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” said Governor Hogan as he vetoed the bill during a meeting of the Board of Public WorksWednesdaymorning.

In a process that reeked of the smoke-filled backrooms and political machines of the past, this disastrous IAC provision was amended onto an initially promising piece of legislation and then hustled through the legislature in a secretive process with no public hearings, no notice, and limited debate. As the Presiding Officers rammed the bill through with little regard to transparency, the Senate President and other legislative leaders stated on the record that the effort was actually about settling petty personal scores within their own party – not serving Maryland students, parents, and taxpayers.

“I will never sit by and allow our children to be used as political pawns in what is a perplexing and ultimately deeply depressing situation that you have chosen to create,” wrote Governor Hogan in his veto letter to legislative leadership.

The governor also vetoed SB 639, which makes it more difficult for Maryland schools to remove teachers who have been recommended for termination by school superintendents for misconduct by creating an unnecessary and bureaucratic arbitration process before any action can be taken. The bill gives power over these important decisions to an arbitrator – who does not have to be a Maryland resident – instead of local school boards, which have to answer to parents.

“The vast majority of our teachers do an incredible job, often making tough personal sacrifices, educating our students,” wrote Governor Hogan in his veto letter to legislative leadership. “However, those who consistently fail our children and consistently fail to achieve our state’s high standards should not be protected through an extra layer of obscure bureaucracy.”

This bill is the latest in a series of unfortunate actions by the General Assembly to pass flawed bills that negatively impact Maryland’s public schools. In addition to the bills the governor vetoed today, the legislature passed the disastrous “Protect our [Failing] Schools Act” during the last session, which resulted in Maryland having the second-lowest accountability standards in the nation under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This session, legislators have failed to move forward on legislation proposed by the governor to improve Maryland’s standing under ESSA, and to create an Investigator General to investigate wrongdoing in school systems across the state.

The legislature’s actions to undermine school accountability come amid multiple scandals and allegations of improper conduct in multiple jurisdictions, including unethical behavior resulting in a the former Baltimore County school superintendent pleading guilty to perjury, troubling results of a state investigation into grade changes in Prince George’s County, widespread mold issues in Howard County school facilities, fiscal mismanagement in Baltimore City, and sexual misconduct by multiple school employees in Montgomery County.

The vetoed bills will be returned to the Maryland General Assembly, where they will either be sustained or overridden.

Read the governor’s veto letter for HB 1783here.

Read the governor’s veto letter for SB 639here.

Images courtesy of Peter Franchot, Comptroller, State of Maryland