Kirwan Commission Trims Cost Estimates, Funding Formulas Still Uncertain

IMG_2887The [Kirwan] Commission on Innovation and Excellence this week unveiled new cost estimates for its recommendations to expand pre-kindergarten, increase teacher pay, provide more resources for at-risk students, and develop a new standard for college and career readiness. The $4.4 billion price tag, phased in over ten years, comes with a caveat: The Commission has yet to agree on the funding formulas that determine both the pattern and role of state and local funding.

The new cost estimate reflects $1.6 billion in savings from spending overlaps, according to the Department of Legislative Services (DLS). But because the Commission has not reached consensus on the foundation formula – a base level of per-pupil funding – it is impossible for DLS to determine exactly how the recommendations will impact county governments.

MACo reiterated its concerns regarding the lack of clarity on the expected pattern and role of county funding during a public hearing last week.

According to Maryland Matters:

The commission has yet to earnestly work on tinkering with the funding formulas. On Thursday, a majority decided to move forward with formula assumptions to allow analysts at the Department of Legislative Services to begin modeling the effect of other potential changes.

The department will begin work on a model that would include some of the commission’s most expensive recommendations – the creation of a “career ladder” for teachers and a commensurate increase in salaries – in the state’s foundation formula. A majority of the commission also seemed to agree that it would be best to establish a separate funding formula for pre-kindergarten education, which they are recommending be implemented by all school districts in the state.

The fiscal estimate for increasing teacher salaries commensurate with advancement on the career ladder is $1.3 billion; an additional $1.3 billion will be required to hire additional teachers so that educators have more time to collaborate with colleagues outside of the and classroom and develop strategies to help struggling students.

Recommendations to expand high–quality pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds based on a sliding scale and three-year-olds from low-income families, create a new college and career readiness standard, and provide more resources to at-risk students brings the estimated price tag to $4.4 billion annually in 2030.

Estimated Commission Totals (in $)
Scroll through for FY projections from 2020-2030

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Maryland Public Policy Institute issued the following statement after a commission member called the record spending increase, “a very small amount of money.”

““Four billion in new spending can only be called ‘a very small amount’ by those who make a career out of spending other peoples’ money,” said Christopher B. Summers, president, and chief executive officer of the Institute. “Maryland taxpayers should be concerned by the commission’s recommendations. Our in-depth analysis of the commission’s work finds scant evidence that their recommendations will benefit Maryland children and families, while ample evidence shows that historic school spending increase since 2002 has produced disappointing results.”

Commission Chair, Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan, encouraged his colleagues to consider further paring down some recommendations to be more palatable to lawmakers who might recoil at the massive price tag. “Are there ways we can find some savings to increase the chances we can have a report that will gain the general public’s support?” Kirwan asked.

Commissioners balked at a proposal to water down its recommendation to expand high-quality pre-kindergarten. Commissioner Margaret Williams said, “I think this is not a great place to cut… this is ‘Solomon’s Choice’ you’re giving us here.” Instead, the Commission will consider including in its report to the Governor and General Assembly a series of cost-saving options.

A motion by Commissioner David Helfman, executive director of the Maryland State Education Association, to include in the foundation formula funding to provide a “living wage” for all education support professionals was narrowly defeated.

The proposal, introduced as Senate Bill 775 earlier this year, failed to pass the Maryland General Assembly. State Senator and commission member, Steve Waugh, expressed concerns over the Commission’s ability to finalize its recommendations by the December 31 reporting deadline, much less consider new policy proposals. “This may be a worthy idea, but throwing out a policy initiative at this point in time is not a wise decision… Let me put it to you this way, if it was introduced as a bill and the bill died, then the legislature has probably already given you its general opinion on the topic.”

MACo opposed the legislation. According to the bill’s fiscal note, local school system expenditures would increase statewide by $115.1 million in FY 2022 and by $236.1 million in FY 2024 – a massive fiscal cost. Under state law, counties have no choice but to fund these costs – competing for limited local funds against education, public safety, roadway maintenance, and other essential public services.

Despite the Commission’s inability to reach consensus on spending formulas and final policy proposals, Chairman Kirwan remains optimistic. “We are absolutely committed to delivering a report which will include a complete set of policy recommendations, fully costed out with an implementation plan… in time for the 2019 session of the Maryland General Assembly.”

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.

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.

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.

The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Wednesday, December 18, 2018; 9:30 am-5:30 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

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.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

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

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Counties Weigh in on Kirwan

Conduit Street Podcast: #NG911 Report, Kirwan Testimony, Ranked-Choice Voting, #MACoCon, and County Awards

MACo Testimony on Senate Bill 775 (2018)

Maryland Matters: Kirwan Commission Refines Cost Estimates, Funding Formulas Still Up in the Air 

Maryland Public Policy Institute: Kirwan Commission Wants $4 Billion Spending Hike

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: