Commission to Start Review of State Education Funding

The first major review of education funding in more than ten years will begin on September 29, with reports due in December 2016 and December 2017. 


In 2002, an American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland lawsuit brought on behalf of under-served schoolchildren was a catalyst for a statewide review of education funding adequacy. This review was undertaken by a legislatively-appointed Commission, commonly called the “Thornton Commission” after its Chair, Dr. Alvin Thornton.

Many of the Thornton Commission’s recommendations were incorporated into the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002, a plan intended to increase statewide education funding by $1.1 billion over five years.

One element of the Bridge to Excellence Act was a second review of the State’s education funding. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is that second review.


The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission. MACo is entitled to two representatives on the Commission, under the legislation.

Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Chair, and Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Vice Chair, will represent MACo on the Commission.

By its charge, the Commission must makes recommendations on many things, including, as described the the Department of Legislative Services,

  • appropriate enrollment counts for counties with increasing and declining enrollment as well as for economically disadvantaged children;
  • expansion of prekindergarten and funding for prekindergarten and other early childhood education programs;
  • equity in school finance and local wealth measures; the regional cost of education index;
  • education finance formulas (including base funding for all students and weighting of funding for students with special needs) and accountability measures;
  • the effects of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act on education in the State;
  • better preparing students for postsecondary education, the workforce and the global economy;
  • the efficiency and effectiveness of local school system spending of education funds;
  • State laws promoting collaboration between county governments and local school systems;
  • and the impact of high concentrations of poverty on local school systems;
  • the availability of innovative educational opportunities; and
  • the adequacy and equity of State funding for prekindergarten through grade 12 of public education in the State.

As described in the Maryland Reporter, the education funding formulas influence a large percentage of state funding provided for local purposes,

Two bills,  HB999/SB905, set up the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education to review all the hotly contested formulas on school funding, the biggest chunk of state aid that goes to the counties, $6.3 billion a year.

Education Funding and County Governments

Education funding represents a large percentage of county budgets. In total, counties provided $7.8 billion of operating funding to school boards in FY 2016, representing 49% of all counties’ general fund budgets.

MACo advocates for effective spending of school funding and has concerns that the current maintenance of effort laws, requiring counties to provide the same amount of funding per pupil to school boards from year to year, may work against efficiency.

During the legislative session, MACo supported the Kirwan Commission bill with an amendment, which was accepted. The amendment states,

The Commission shall…make recommendations for…ensuring that state laws promote collaboration and joint efforts between county governments and local school systems.

Next Steps

Under the leadership of Brit Kirwan, Chancellor Emeritus of the University System of Maryland, the “Kirwan Commission” will review the findings of a consultant prepared study and prepare a preliminary report by December 31, 2016.

The first meeting of the Commission will be held on Thursday, September 29, 2016, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Appropriations Committee Room of the House Office Building located at 6 Bladen Street, Room 120, Annapolis, Maryland.

According to an introductory letter to Commissioners, at this meeting, Commissioners will receive briefings on:

  • the legislative and policy history of education nationally and in Maryland since 2002,
  • how public primary and secondary schools are currently funded in the State, and
  • a summary of the Study on Adequacy of Funding for Education in the State of Maryland to date.

The Commission’s final report is due in December 2017. As described by the Reporter,

The commission recommendations due in December 2017 will potentially kick off contentious debates in the election-year legislative session in 2018 as representatives fight for formulas that help their local schools.

For a full list of members, see School funding commission members named, first meeting set, from the Maryland Reporter.

For more information on the Commission, see Conduit Street‘s previous posts: