Maryland budget with added education funds advances

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland would begin investing in a 10-year blueprint to improve public schools, using an education spending bump endorsed Wednesday by the House of Delegates for the coming fiscal year.

The House gave preliminary approval to a $46.7 billion budget, along legislation in tandem with the budget bill to balance the state's books.

Lawmakers opted to boost education funding in a year that turned out to be more challenging fiscally than they first thought. The state's revenue forecast was revised downward last week by about $269 million in this fiscal year and the next one.

"We've responded to a write-down, and I'm pleased to say that we have a budget before you that is balanced, that is great for Maryland's children," Del. Maggie McIntosh, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said.

The measure includes an added $320 million to begin supporting recommendations from a state commission on education. That has been set aside to begin to fund all-day, pre-K for 4-year-olds, and to commit to making 3-year-olds a part of the pre-K system in the state. It also includes $133 million for special education and $75 million to raise teacher salaries.

In addition, the state is setting aside about $500 million for school construction.

After thousands of teachers, parents and students rallied in Annapolis to urge lawmakers to invest more in the state's schools, McIntosh told House members Monday night that the school construction money will enable 13 Maryland counties to get 80 to 100 percent of their school construction requests. Those counties include Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Washington, Wicomico and Worcester.

McIntosh said the budget provides more than $7 billion in support of the state's schools.

"This is the largest budget for our children ever," she said.

The state's Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has estimated that fully implementing the panel's recommendations would cost an estimated $3.8 billion more a year in a decade from now. That would require help from local governments, and the panel has decided to keep working on how the state and local governments will divide the cost.

The added education funding now before lawmakers has been described as a down payment on future spending.

"We need to address resources to continue this momentum during the coming years," McIntosh said Monday night.

The commission also is calling for improving college and career readiness of high school graduates. Another policy area calls for adding resources for students from low-income families and those with disabilities to meet college and career readiness standards.

Meanwhile, the budget leaves $1.2 billion in balance and cash reserves. It also dedicates $80 million in additional funding to battle the opioid addiction crisis and $13 million for crime reduction initiatives to bolster law enforcement efforts in Baltimore and statewide.

The budget also includes a 3 percent salary increase for state employees starting July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

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