ANNAPOLIS - Members of the House Appropriations Committee today approved budget language already passed by the Senate, directing the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) to study the implications of providing Baltimore City with an annual block grant for school construction. This action comes in response to the outpouring of support from the Baltimore community to pass landmark legislation that would lay the foundation for a mass-scale school construction and renovation program. House Bill 304 / Senate Bill 533 called for $32 million a year (less than the average annual state capital allocation to City Schools) to be given to the school system in the form of a block grant, rather than on a project-by-project basis. A block grant would allow the school system to leverage an estimated $480 million upfront to rebuild and renovate crumbling buildings, to be paid back in installments over 25 to 30 years.
While many legislators agreed that there are major school construction needs in Baltimore City, there were concerns regarding how the block grant and bond financing would impact the state's capacity to borrow and how it might affect other counties. The requirement for further study, however, shows the level of seriousness the proposal garnered in a short time period.
"The parents, teachers, and children want decision-makers to move forward with a sense of urgency; we don't want children to have to wait another year for decent school buildings," said Bebe Verdery, Director of the ACLU of Maryland's Education Reform Project. "This study will provide an opportunity to work out the details of implementing block grant funding in an alternative financing plan to begin to address City Schools' $2.8 billion infrastructure need. Advocates will be pushing for strong recommendations."
The budget language directs that the IAC study this issue, in conjunction with the State Treasurer, Department of Budget and Management, City Schools, the City of Baltimore, and the Department of Legislative Services. Click here to read the entire committee narrative. The study is due to the General Assembly by December 1, 2012.
Securing block grant funding to enable alternative financing has been a primary focus of the campaign to Transform Baltimore, which calls upon city and state elected officials to implement a funding plan to renovate and modernize every Baltimore City school building within eight years. The idea of leveraging capital funding through a block grant for City Schools is based on a successful model developed by Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville's school district used its existing annual capital funds of $60 million to borrow $1 billion up front. A total of 70 schools were completely rebuilt or renovated, and Greenville is using its existing capital funding to pay off the debt over 25 years.
In collaboration with the Baltimore Education Coalition (BEC), the campaign has mobilized thousands of students, parents, educators, business leaders, and community members in support of new and renovated school buildings. Advocates traveled to Annapolis throughout the session for committee briefings, bill hearings, district forums, and to distribute hundreds of personal comments to legislators.
Transform Baltimore and the advocacy community will monitor the study closely over the summer to ensure issues are addressed, so that a block grant funding bill can pass the General Assembly next year. The campaign will continue to push for a full-scale plan to rebuild and renovate every city school building.