All Maryland counties turn in school plan. Approval, tied to funding, awaits
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is legislation passed during the last few years from Annapolis that, in theory, influences every public school student in the state.
On Wednesday, that theory became a little closer to being “in practice,” as each of the state’s 24 jurisdictions submitted an implementation plan in advance of the March 15 midnight deadline.
“It’s just a tremendous feat to see that we’ve come this far,” said Isiah Leggett, the chair of the Blueprint Accountability and Implementation Board and former Montgomery County executive, “This is important and exciting news for all of us.”
Each county’s plan posted online at the Accountability and Implementation Board’s website follows a template, but the county school systems final plans ranged from 141 pages to 204 pages each.
Wicomico County’s Blueprint Coordinator Frederick Briggs described the process of completing the plan with its dozens of questions and five pillars, ranging from early childhood education to college and career readiness.
“The collaborative process of drafting the initial Blueprint Implementation Plan for Wicomico County Public Schools was both challenging and rewarding,” said Briggs, in an email. “Our team, with support from various stakeholders from outside our system, focused on responding to all 164 questions — thoroughly capturing the quality work we are already doing while also identifying plans for growth that will benefit the students and staff of our school system.”
School funding tied to board approving plans
Answering each of the questions is part of the “minimum requirement,” and a state law passed last year tied school funding to meeting the expectations from the Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB). The next step will be making sure each jurisdiction’s plan met the requirement or funds could be withheld.
For jurisdictions that rely on property taxes to pay for schools, the state funding is no small issue. For example, over half of Wicomico County’s $304 million school budget comes from the state.
“Under the Blueprint (law), 25 percent of (jurisdictions’) new funds are automatically withheld in the current fiscal year (2023) until the AIB determines whether the minimum guidelines were met,” said Rachel Hise, the board’s executive director, during a March 16 online board meeting.
Board member Mara Doss recognized how vital the review process taking place over the next few months is.
“It’s so important that we get this right, especially with the (local education agencies),” said Doss, an associate vice president at Prince George’s Community College, referring to the school systems, during the board meeting.
Wicomico’s Briggs said that while the plan is in, the effort is far from finished.
“Although submitting our plan on March 15th culminates countless hours of work focused on improving the educational experience for our students, it is only the beginning of the critical work outlined by the Accountability and Implementation Board,” he said. “We will continue working with the AIB, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), and other school district staff to plan for additional improvement opportunities.”
During the meeting, board chair Leggett focused in on July 1 as a key date for funding decisions, causing board member Joseph Manko to reflect on the “spirit of the review process.”
“It’s not a compliance exercise,” said Manko, a former Baltimore City Public Schools principal, “It’s about providing support and feedback to help strengthen the plans.”
“I assume some of this will be iterative," he said, "and welcomed.”
Dozens of applications received for vacancy on board
The board has three listed as staff on the state’s website. In addition to Leggett, Doss, and Manko, three others, including William (Brit) Kirwan, a former chancellor of the University System of Maryland, who chaired the commission that helped to create the Blueprint law, are on the seven-member implementation board. There is currently one vacancy left by Fagan Harris, who became chief of staff to Gov. Wes Moore.
During Thursday’s meeting, Hise said 45 applications were received for Harris’ position. That number is two greater than the total number of valid applications received for all slots in 2021. She indicated that names of nominees could be sent to the governor after the legislative session ends in April. In that case, the individual would work in an interim capacity until he or she receives a hearing from the state Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee next year.
Math scores across the state low. Board chair says, ‘work ahead.’
The board’s work with local jurisdictions comes as Maryland students returned to pre-pandemic levels of proficiency in English Language Arts, but the state's students lag in mathematics.
Less than a quarter (22%) of third -through eighth-grade students statewide were proficient on the math Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP), according to data from the Maryland State Department of Education released in January.
Only 31 percent of Montgomery County’s students scored proficient while Washington County, by comparison, had a 26 percent proficiency rate, and Wicomico County, on the state’s Eastern Shore, a 19 percent rate.
No jurisdiction had above 40 percent of students in that cohort proficient on the math assessment, and only one jurisdiction (Howard County) had a proficiency rate above 30 percent on the Algebra I assessment, which was reported at the same time.
Leggett, in recognizing the accomplishment of receiving each of the plans, acknowledged the path as the board prepares for the plans review.
“We have a great deal of work ahead of us,” he said.
Dwight A. Weingarten is an investigative reporter, covering the Maryland State House and state issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DwightWeingart2.
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This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: All counties turn in school plan. Approval, tied to funding, awaits