ANNAPOLIS – A bill to standardize graduation times for special education students is on its way to Gov. Parris Glendening’s desk.
The state Senate passed the bill Wednesday, 45-1, and the House of Delegates passed it unanimously March 10.
Glendening’s position on the bill is unknown, said Raquel Guillory, his spokeswoman.
The bill requires all counties to keep special education students in school until the end of the school year after they turn 21. Twelve of Maryland’s 23 counties already do that, but the others make students leave either as soon as they turn 21 or one semester later.
Supporters said the bill could give special education students an easier transition from school to work or adult services by allowing them to graduate in June.
“We’re thrilled,” said Cristy Marchand, executive director of the Arc of Maryland. “For the first time it gives consistency throughout the state.”
Almost 600 students will benefit from the bill, Marchand said.
The Maryland Association of Boards of Education opposed the bill, and some counties are reluctant to change their policies.
“A state mandate could prove costly, especially in situations where students turn 21 at the start of the school year or when students may be offered transition services earlier in the year,” said Eric Schwartz, deputy executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, in written testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee.
If approved by Glendening, the bill will be effective in October. It will cost local governments $2.7 million and the state $1.4 million, according to the legislation.
Every county takes per-student state funding to cover an entire school year, and some still make students leave before the year is over.
That practice is “unconscionable” said Delegate James Rzepkowski, R-Anne Arundel, bill co-sponsor, after the House debate.
The extension could be beneficial, but it is a decision the counties should make, said Harry Fogle, supervisor of special education for Carroll County public schools, where students stay one semester after they turn 21, rather than the whole year.
“I think it’s going to be good for students and good for parents,” Fogle said. “I would still like it to be a totally local decision.”
Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, the lone vote against the bill, said cast his “nay” vote to support the Maryland Associate of Boards of Education.