OPINION: Key Education Initiatives Passed During 2007 Session

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

The 2007 General Assembly Session was an excellent year for K-12 and higher education.

The capital budget of 2007 included $401.8 million for public school construction funding which was a record high. This is extremely important that we utilize this money for school construction as the price of land and labor costs increase on a yearly basis.

All three Southern Maryland school systems received substantial amounts of this amount for various projects requested by their respective school boards.

I am not a fan of what the politically correct bureaucrats like to call “relocatable classrooms.” In my days they were trailers. The governor and I call them “learning shacks.” I simply don’t believe we should be educating our students in trailers.

A portion of the $401.8 million for public school construction ($250,000) went towards renovation of these trailers. The State of Maryland owns 202 trailers, most of which are more than 30 years old.

I have written many times about a successful piece of legislation I was able to get passed during the 2006 Session – the Task Force on School Safety. While the task force, by law is not supposed to submit its final report until December 1, 2007, several measures were passed this year to address student behavior.

Senate Bill 519, which passed, addressed the issue of student truancy in our schools. During the 2005-2006 school years, more than 20,000 public school students in Maryland were considered habitually truant, meaning they missed 20 percent or more of the school days in a marking period, semester or school year. The statewide habitual truancy rate was 2.37 percent.

There were also nearly 8,700 student suspensions in the 2005-2006 school years for attendance problems. To discourage truancy, Senate Bill 519 was introduced. Thankfully, this excellent piece of legislation passed. This bill prohibits the Motor Vehicle Administration from issuing a learner’s instructional driving permit to an applicant under the age of 16 if the applicant’s school attendance record indicates more than 10 unexcused absences during the prior school semester.

Senate Bill 132, which passed, requires the Maryland State Department of Education to review the policies and procedures of each local board of education relating to student discipline, student suspension and student expulsion. The review must include suspension rates, reasons for suspensions and the efficacy of the positive behavioral interventions and support programs that are currently required for elementary schools with high suspension rates.

Student Health was also addressed during this year’s Session. One of the strongest successful pieces of legislation was House Bill 957.

This bill requires the MSDE and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to jointly establish guidelines for providing emergency medical care to students with special health needs. According to the legislation, the guidelines must include the emergency administration of medication and follow-up emergency procedures; a description of parental, school and student responsibilities with respect to health emergencies; and any other issues relevant to the emergency medical care of student with special health needs.

Additionally, MSDE and DHMH must provide technical assistance to schools and develop a process to monitor the implementation of the guidelines.

As I mentioned, this was a good year for higher education. I believe that in today’s ultra-competitive job market, everyone should pursue a college degree. However from fiscal 2002-2006 tuition and fee revenues at Maryland’s four-year public institutions of higher education increased significantly.

Successful legislation prevented this from happening for the second consecutive year. Senate Bill 108 extends the tuition freeze for resident undergraduate students at University of Maryland institutions and Morgan State University for the 2007-2008 academic years. St. Mary’s College of Maryland was the only publicly-funded institution that was able to raise its tuition by 4.8 percent.

This will be a major help for parents and students who are having a tough enough time paying for college as it is.

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