The [Kirwan] Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education came to Annapolis this week with high expectations. After all, the Commission was set to put the final touches on its recommendations to transform Maryland’s public education system into one of the best in the world.
But the 25-member panel was dealt a devastating blow on Thursday, delivered in a letter from Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch. With the 2019 General Assembly session quickly approaching, the presiding officers asked the Commission to continue its work into 2019, further delaying a final report that was originally due last December.
“Given the breadth of the commission charge and the rigor and the thoroughness with which the Commission has addressed its charge, we understand that it is virtually impossible for the formulas to be completed in time for action during the 2019 Legislative Session,” the presiding officers wrote. “The work of the commission is too important to rush through without something so critical as funding formulas that will ensure that the debate in the General Assembly is backed by the best available data.”
And so while the Commission ultimately gave final approval to 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 ultimately fell victim to its kryptonite: The inability to agree on the funding formulas that determine both the pattern and role of state and local funding.
According to Maryland Matters:
Panel members were visibly disappointed after receiving the letter. What would a delay in deciding the formula funding mean? How would the state and counties move forward with policy recommendations if funding changes hadn’t been settled? What, some commission members asked, had been the point of meeting for the past two years? Should the commission have spent so much time on fine-tuned policy recommendations only to postpone work on the necessary funding?
“Hindsight is 20/20,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s).
MACo, through its membership on the Commission, public testimony, and letters, has consistently called for the panel to release details on 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.
Despite the setback, lawmakers are likely to allocate $200 million in additional aid to school systems for the coming year. That money, part of the State’s windfall resulting from federal tax reform, was set aside by the governor and legislature during the 2018 General Assembly session.
The commission recommends that money be used to increase pre-K funding for four-year-olds, provide a pay increase for teachers, hire community school coordinators and health practitioners in high-poverty schools, and transitional tutoring. The Commission will ask for an additional $125 million for the next fiscal year to provide more money for special education.
After a tense debate, the Commission also voted to ask the General Assembly to set aside a minimum of $750 million for the 2021 fiscal year to ensure its recommendations are implemented in the 2020 session of the General Assembly.
The Commission stills plans to vote on a final report in 2019. But the presiding officers asked the Commission to appoint a small workgroup “to review and develop formula recommendations to be considered by the full commission in fall 2019.”
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 the now-former Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine represent MACo on the Commission.
The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 19, 2018; 9:30 am-2:30 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.
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: