When trying to get a general read of Maryland’s legislative session, which wrapped up this week, it’s understandable how people can be confused. Mixed messages are sent from a variety of media outlets as well as the elected officials themselves.
As is typically the case, dozens of media statements were released from legislators across the state in the days following Sine Die on Monday. However, there was a sense of uniformity with a majority of the statements issued. No matter a veteran or neophyte or Democrat or Republican, all agree it was a highly successful session because there was an unprecedented spirit of bipartisanship between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the Democratically-controlled House of Delegates and Senate chambers.
While there are several contradictory examples, namely the nasty comment war between Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Democratic leaders over changes to public school construction oversight, one bill that did seem to illustrate a bipartisan approach involved school safety improvements. As it often does in Maryland, politics did not get in the way of the right thing to do.
The Maryland Safe to Learn Act was the first bill signed into law this week after the session ended. We like to think that’s because it was among the most important pieces of legislation passed in Annapolis this year.
While there are specific questions on how it will be doled out fairly across Maryland’s jurisdictions, the legislation injects $10 million annually into the Maryland Center for School Safety, which was created back in 2013 “to provide a coordinated and comprehensive policy for school safety in Maryland,” according to its website.
The new funding, which is separate from a new budget line item of $41 million for school-safety improvements, is earmarked for ensuring every single public high school has at least one school resource officer. Elementary and middle schools, under the legislation, must have plans in place for the start of the 2019 school year. It also calls for requiring public schools to have lockable classrooms and hold a certain amount of active-threat drills.
Locally, it’s unknown how much funding will come to Worcester and Wicomico counties. From recent budget talks, the counties do not appear to be holding their breath on a large funding boost. They are looking to handle their own safety concerns immediately with requests for more funds to hire more school safety resource officers.
That’s the appropriate way to go because there are major questions as far as who will receive what and how it will be doled out. The counties need to take care of themselves and hope for the best from the state as far as funding. A wait-and-see approach is certainly not acceptable when it comes to the safety of our children and personnel in schools.
The good news is funding help is coming from the state, thanks to bi-partisanship work on new legislation. It’s just unknown how much at this point and that doesn’t help the current budget processes well underway.