Kirwan Commission Aims to Revamp “At-Risk” Funding Formulas

The [Kirwan] Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education held its most recent meeting today in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission heard recommendations on how to best improve educational outcomes for at-risk students.

In addition to the wealth adjusted per-pupil foundation amount, school systems currently receive supplemental aid for every child who needs additional resources to receive a high-quality education.

There are three at-risk programs:

  • Compensatory Program: The compensatory program is designed to provide extra support to students coming from backgrounds of poverty. For every student who qualifies for Free and Reduced Price Meals, school systems receive an amount equal to 97% of their per-pupil foundation.
  • Limited English Proficiency: For every student who is learning English as a second language, school systems receive an amount equal to 99% of their per-pupil foundation.
  • Special Education: For every student receiving special education services, school systems receive an amount equal to 74% of their per-pupil foundation.

In order to provide more resources for at-risk students, the Commission’s preliminary report recommends that schools with large numbers of low-income students, English language learners and special education students receive extra weight in the public school funding formula. The More Resources for At-Risk Students working group, one of four working groups tasked with costing out the Commission’s preliminary recommendations, today presented its findings to the full Commission. (Click here to read recommendations from working group’s 1-3).

Concentrated Poverty

Following a period of decline after 2003, the number of children living in poverty has grown substantially in Maryland since the Great Recession of 2007-08. In 2015, 14% of Maryland children under age 18 were living in poverty; that figure was 34% in Baltimore City. The overwhelming majority of these children attend public schools. More than half of public schools (almost 60%) across the State now have 40% or more of their students eligible for a free or reduced-price meal, which is based on 185% of the federal poverty level.

The working group recommends adding a “concentrated poverty” weight to the funding formula to support intensive services for students and their families to enable them to succeed in school and able to meet the additional needs of students in schools located in distressed communities.

Joy Shaefer, moderator of the More Resources for At-Risk Students working group and member of the Frederick County Board of Education, stressed the need for additional funding for schools with concentrated poverty. “Concentration of poverty is a school issue, and it affects every student in the school, regardless of what their socioeconomic status may be,” she said.

The additional funding would be provided for each school in which (yet to be determined) percentage of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals. But each school would have to submit an implementation plan based on an assessment of need.

A fixed amount would be provided for each school in which at least (yet to be determined) of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. This fixed funding would be used to hire a community schools coordinator and a health services practitioner.

In addition to the fixed amount of funding would be an amount per student enrolled at the school. This per pupil funding (in combination with the compensatory education funding formula) could be used to provide additional programs and services.

Local school systems must demonstrate that funds provided under the weight are being provided to the schools in which the weight is applicable and are being used for the purpose of implementing the plans. Local governments would be expected to demonstrate support through meaningful partnership and support that is supplemental to and does not supplant existing efforts.

Special Education Students

State and federal law require school systems to identify, locate, and evaluate all students who have or are suspected of having disabilities and in need of special education and related services.

To provide special education resources, local school systems spend more than the current funding formula provides.

Total State and local expenditures on special education equaled $1.567 billion in fiscal 2015. Of this, the State provided $272 million, or 17.3% of the total. Counties accounted for the remaining $1.296 billion.

The working group recommends a weight of 2.18 as the “stop–gap” weight until the completion of the special education study required by HB 1415 (2018) and until any recommendations of the study are implemented in law.

This weight is calculated based on the fiscal 2015 foundation per pupil base of $6,860. For context, the weight in current law is 0.74. The weight will be recalculated once the Commission determines a new foundation base such that an equivalent amount of State funds are generated as the weight of 2.18 would generate.

The result of this stop-gap weight is that State funding, in fiscal 2015 dollars, increases by 195% from $272 million to $800 million. This increases the State proportion of expenditures from 17% to 51%.

Because a special education study is due by December 2019, the new weight may be revised again in response to the study recommendations. It is anticipated that the placeholder weight recommended by the Commission may be in place for up to 3 years while the completed study is being reviewed and incorporated into State law.

Although school districts will have discretion in repurposing approximately $529 million in local funds, they are encouraged to reinvest a portion back into special education as appropriate to provide a robust level of services to meet the needs of the special education students.

Commissioner Kalman Hettleman, who sits on the working group, expressed concerns with the recommendations. “I voted against the proposed weight because I didn’t think it came close to achieving adequacy … At best, it represents a 33% increase for special education. These students are the most disadvantaged, vulnerable, and neglected,” he said.

English Learner Students

Because most English learner students also qualify for compensatory education funding, the compensatory education weight will provide for academic and social/emotional supports. Therefore, the weight as recommended by APA Consulting is only reflective of the resources needed to specifically support language acquisition.

According to the working group, in addition to what APA recommended, the English learner weight should be increased to provide a family liaison. The family liaison could provide translation services for communication between school personnel and parents through a bilingual liaison, cultural competency training for school personnel, other family support and family engagement, and referrals to outside resources that a school may not be able to directly provide.

Next Steps

The Kirwan Commission is soliciting public comment on the recommendations from each of the four working groups. All comments must be submitted to the Commission by September 14, 2018. After considering public input, the chair will work with staff and consultants to develop a draft cost estimate based on the recommendations of the working groups for the full Commission’s consideration.

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.

The Commission was originally set to complete its work in time for the 2018 session of the General Assembly, but last October asked for an extension when it became clear the deadline was not realistic. Prior to breaking for the 2018 legislative session, the Commission released a preliminary report detailing its preliminary recommendations.

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

Materials from today’s meeting are available on the Department of Legislative Services website, and the meetings viewable online by searching the House Appropriations Committee room on the dates of each meeting.

The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Friday, September 21, 2018; 9:30 am-5:00 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Kirwan Commission Begins Finalizing Recommendations

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Kirwan Commission Considers Major Pay Increase for Teachers

Conduit Street Podcast: Digging Deeper on “Elevating Teaching,” Candidate Shuffle, & More!