ANNAPOLIS – Democratic office-holders in Maryland continued to push the Republican gubernatorial candidate on education, with House Speaker Michael E. Busch holding a press conference Thursday, accusing Larry Hogan of planning to cut $450 million in state funding for school construction.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown made this assertion during Tuesday’s debate. It’s a claim that the Hogan camp has since said is the “tallest tale yet.”
In a written statement issued after the press conference, House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke characterized Busch’s comments as “outrageous lies.”
“It is incredibly disappointing that Speaker Mike Busch and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown are exploiting our school children to score political points,” Kipke said.
The figure comes from an April 2013 audit by the state’s Board of Public Works. The auditors were unable to identify final funding and completion for 126 school-construction projects, totaling $450 million.
However, the same document shows a response from the Interagency Committee on School Construction stating that the status of the projects had been determined prior to the release of the audit.
The amount was part of a total of $1.7 billion that the Republican’s camp identified as fraud, waste and abuse, which he would work to eliminate if elected, Hogan has said.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III and Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller, joined Busch in front of West Annapolis Elementary School.
The school’s students are at Annapolis Middle School while West Annapolis undergoes renovations.
Busch said that it’s these types of projects that would be in danger should Hogan be elected.
“This is the first, I guess sign, that in a Hogan administration that there won’t be the amount in school construction money that we need in the state of Maryland,” Busch said.
“For Michael Busch and Anthony Brown to take Hogan’s call for reform and to twist it as a call for eliminating all new school construction, is just untrue and they know it,” Kipke said in a written statement.
Citing a $1.7 billion backlog in school construction in Anne Arundel County Busch said that the county was in need of construction funding because no new high school has been built since 1981 and 50 out of 89 elementary schools have portable classrooms.
“I appreciate that Governor Brown [sic] has stepped up to the plate and said that he is going to put more money into school construction than even what we had in the O’Malley administration,” Busch added.
Hogan’s spokeswoman, Hannah Marr, said that it’s not the amount of money that’s the problem, but how it is spent.
“The Ehrlich administration doubled education spending and O’Malley added to that and there’s still a huge disparity,” Marr said. “All we’re saying is that this money needs to be spent more efficiently and that every dollar that’s being wasted is a dollar not going to students that need it.”
Baker said that Prince George’s County is facing similar problems with the majority of schools being over 50 years old.
Areas inside the Beltway have seen a particular need as a growth in population in Prince George’s County has resulted in overcrowding of public schools, Baker said.
“Tonight I’m going to do a town hall meeting at Oxon (Hill) High School, one of the newest high schools in Prince George’s County – a jewel,” Baker said. “And residents from around the county are going to come and see that high school and they’re going to want that in their neighborhood.”
Baker said that the county asked the state for $50 million to $60 million in construction funding, which the county would match two to one.
Brown is “going to be the education governor, he’s going to carry on the policies of the O’Malley-Brown administration that has helped Prince George’s County move up in the area,” he said.