House Approves Budget, Rejects Swipe at Common Core

By Len Lazarick,

(March 27, 2014) The House of Delegates approved its version of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $38.7 billion budget Thursday by a vote of 100-38, but not before Republicans got in some licks about high taxes, Common Core and the lack of a vote on their own pay raises.

Every Democrat present and four Republicans voted for the budget, while 38 Republicans opposed the spending plan and the taxes that helped pay for it.

“We haven’t lightened the load on our fellow citizens,” said Del. Tony O’Donnell, R-Calvert.

Common Core standards criticized

The most prolonged debate occurred over an amendment by Del. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County, to withhold $1 million in public school funding until every school system in the state had conducted a hearing “to solicit expressions of concern over the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum.”

Kach, a retired public school math teacher, said, “There are some parts of Common Core that make no common sense whatsoever.” He was particularly critical of the math curriculum.

“It’s a ridiculous way to teach multiplication,” Kach said.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on Common Core,” he said. “We don’t want to use our students as guinea pigs.”

Other Republicans with strong objections to Common Core and its promotion by federal education officials also weighed in. They complained that that the curriculum had not been tested for its effectiveness and might harm student progress much like other education fads in the past.

Work group will study implementation

Education appropriations subcommittee chair John Bohanan, D-St. Mary’s, resisted Kach’s plan. “We believe a process is already taking place,” Bohanan said.

Del. Anne Kaiser, chair of the education policy subcommittee on Ways & Means, said Kach’s amendment was “too big a stick” and another measure, HB1167, was “a good start” for reviewing Common Core.

The House already passed that bill creating an emergency work group to review implementation of Common Core and the new standardized tests that accompany it. That legislation had a brief hearing Thursday afternoon in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

“People are still very unhappy with what they’re seeing,” said Del. Eric Bromwell, Baltimore County, one of several Democrats who voted for the Kach amendment that failed 50-88.

No budget for legislative pay hike

Del. Cathy Vitale, R-Anne Arundel, complained that she couldn’t even offer an amendment to cut the funding for the legislative pay hike that will go into effect automatically next year if the legislature doesn’t reject it in the next 12 days.

There is no specific amount of money in the budget to cover the pay hike, Vitale said she was told by the Department of Legislative Services. Legislative pay is scheduled to go up $1,707 in each of the next four years to $50,330, and will cost an additional $350,000 each year.

If there’s not enough money in the fiscal 2015 budget, which covers a half year of the pay raise, there will be a deficiency appropriation next year, Vitale said she was told. She said this was “a budget that already supports a lack of transparency.”

Amendments on ‘House of Cards’ and Israel boycott

Added to the budget without debate were two “friendly amendments.”

One by Del. Bill Frick, D-Montgomery, would allow the state to take the property of the producers of the Netflix show “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey, since they had already received $10 million in tax credits and are demanding more.

Another, by Del. Ben Kramer, condemns the American Studies Association for its boycott of Israel, Israeli universities and scholars. The University of Maryland Baltimore County has a group membership in the association.

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