ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday signed into law a third package of bills largely focusing on education and health insurance.
One of the first bills signed dealt with school construction in Prince George’s County to create a public-private partnership fund. One of its main goals is to implement nearly $1 billion over a seven-year period for students who attend the state’s second-largest school system, which has dozens of schools built in the 1950s.
The legislation pushes for money “to supplement, but not supplant” existing funds for renovation of current buildings or construction of new schools. Officials estimate the partnership program would help accelerate such plans and decrease an estimated $8.5 billion backlog of school construction and maintenance projects.
“It’s a wonderful start,” Alsobrooks said. “It’s going to really assist Prince George’s County in building schools more economically and more expeditiously. We are very excited for the future.”
The first bill signed Monday will add three more Pathways in Technology Early College High (P-TECH) programs, which allows incoming high school students to receive a high school diploma and associate’s degree. Designed by the state Department of Education, students can take courses at local community colleges and companies provide mentoring and other services for students.
Dozens of students at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro enrolled in a P-TECH program two years ago. Once they graduate in 2021, they will receive management skills in health information from Medstar and hospital services from Marriott Hotels.
Frederick Douglass serves as the only school in Prince George’s with the P-TECH program.
According to a state document on P-TECH, nearly 600 students are enrolled for the 2018-19 school year in Prince George’s, Baltimore, Allegheny and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City.
“Jurisdictions have the opportunity to work with industry partners … and the students then have the opportunity to learn that industry,” said Del. Andrea C. Harrison (D-District 24) of Springdale, who sponsored the P-TECH legislation. “We know that without some additional higher learning that individuals and families tend to be on the lower end of the poverty scale. By us giving these young people a head start when they graduate from high school, they have the opportunity to become middle-class citizens in our society.”
Among the 182 bills signed by Hogan, Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, health advocates believe one piece of legislation ushering in a new insurance program will be a future model for other states.
The Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance program will help at least 100,000 uninsured residents receive coverage by simply checking a box on their state tax income returns.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park and Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County), would determine eligibility for free or low-cost health insurance and expand the poll of consumers and decrease premium costs for other enrollees.
Stan Dorn, a senior fellow with Families USA, a national advocacy group based in northwest D.C., said Maryland will be the first state in the nation to let residents “jump-start” their health insurance applications from tax returns. The process would start either by January or in 2021, depending on what the state comptroller says “is feasible.”
“We’re going to take this show on the road and encourage people all across the county to follow the great lead of Maryland,” Dorn said. “Democrats and Republicans in Maryland have come together to find practical, innovate solutions to help lower people’s health care costs and get more people the financial security that comes with health insurance. It’s really a big deal.”