Counties Weigh In on Kirwan

The [Kirwan] Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was formed in 2016 to answer two questions: Should the state revise current education funding formulas? And, what major new education policies must be enacted to put Maryland public schools on par with the best in the world?

From left to right: Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner, Talbot County Council Member Laura Price, and MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally

While the Commission has developed detailed policy recommendations such as increasing teacher pay, expanding pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and low-income three-year-olds, providing more resources for at-risk students, reducing the amount of classroom instruction time for teachers, and creating a new standard for college and career readiness – proposals expected to cost billions of dollars – it has yet to produce details on the expected pattern and role of county funding.

As the Commission nears its December reporting deadline, members of the statewide and local organizations, as well as members of the general public, were invited to weigh in on the Commission’s work during a marathon meeting yesterday in Annapolis.

Maryland counties were well represented during the public hearing, with several jurisdictions submitting testimony to the Commission.

Counties are the principal unit of local government in Maryland, and – unlike in many states – Maryland counties share responsibility with the State for funding public schools, libraries, and local community colleges. While local boards of education develop local school budgets and oversee education-related spending, they are dependent on financing from county governments. In fiscal 2018, local governments provided 49% of total revenues for local school systems.

According to the MACo testimony:

In fact, in 2018, more than half of Maryland’s counties exceeded the required education funding, also called “maintenance of effort,” for a total of more than $174 million in additional education funding. Further, each year counties spend millions on schools – money which is not accounted for in the “maintenance of effort” calculation – with commitments through their health departments, law enforcement agencies, after-school activities, and other programs not technically inside the school budget.

As the Commission sharpens its focus on education funding formulas, counties continue to be concerned with the lack of specificity regarding the pattern and role of county funding required to effectuate the Commission’s recommendations. These details are vital for counties and other stakeholders to fully understand the impact of any changes to State education aid formulas.

Accordingly, MACo urges the Commission to provide this information, as well as any underlying data necessary to independently evaluate costs and fiscal impacts, as soon as possible so that counties may provide feedback and insight on draft recommendations.

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner told the Commission that education is a top priority for county governments, but cautioned that without strong and reliable funding from the State, some of its recommendations may be untenable.

In 2014 when I took office, Frederick County has the lowest teacher starting salary in the entire state due to years of flat funding and the recession. Immediately upon taking office, I began to fund a new pay scale for teachers and equitable increases for our other school system employee groups. After four years of a phased implementation, which added over $32M over maintenance of effort for salary improvements… our starting teacher scale is no longer last in the state.

However, even with this significant investment, specifically for salaries, we are not close to bringing staring teacher pay to $60,000 per year, as is being suggested by the Commission. It would take a significant and sustained investment to achieve this goal. Plus, we have not begun to examine the the impact this potential recommendation would have on our other school system employee groups, not to mention other public workers such as police, firefighters, EMTs, etc.

Talbot County Council Member Laura Price expressed concerns with how the Commission’s recommendations could impact Maryland taxpayers and advocated for a partnership approach.

I would venture to say that in almost every jurisdiction, any increase means an increase in everyone’s taxes. Certainly at the local level and potentially at the state level, since there is no way the state can afford the numbers we’re talking about.

Let’s work together together to find solutions and true accountability on what we can afford and what will actually have meaningful results for our children.

MACo advocates for a partnership approach to meeting the education needs of Maryland’s students, one that fairly balances state responsibilities with local obligations and seeks equitable and efficient solutions to meet current expenses and future goals. With this approach in mind, MACo urges the Commission to avoid creating a “winners and losers” situation for county governments.

County governments share other concerns regarding current education funding law, including the State’s wealth calculation, funding of jurisdictions with declining enrollment, and the effect of nonrecurring costs on “maintenance of effort” calculations. MACo will continue to advocate on these issues through the county membership on the Commission.

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 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 Thursday, December 6, 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

MACo’s Testimony to the [Kirwan] Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education

Previous Conduit Street Coverage of the [Kirwan] Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education

Coverage from Maryland Matters: List of Requests for Kirwan Commission Is Long 

Coverage from the Maryland Reporter: Kirwan Commission to Recommend Billions More to Raise Teacher Pay

MACo’s Winter Conference will include a special roundtable session on education funding and accountability, including how Maryland counties may be affected by the recommendations of the [Kirwan] Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. The session, “Keeping Up with Kirwan – What’s New and What’s Next for School Funding?,” is scheduled for 1:15 pm – 2:45 pm on Wednesday, January 2, 2019.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference: