Kirwan Commission Wraps 2018 Work, Issues Broad $3.8B Recommendations

The Kirwan Commission Calls for a major re-thinking of Maryland school funding priorities, even with some important components on hold for another year.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known informally by the name of its chair, former University of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, has issued its major recommendations. They have called for a package of new school investments totaling some $3.8 billion per year, with most of the changes phasing in between fiscal years 2021 and 2024.

During the Friday, January 18 meeting, the Commission voted on its final set of recommendations, with a number of relatively ministerial and “wordsmithing” matters left to the Chair and staff fr follow-up. The vote among the Commission members was 21 in favor, and two abstentions (both the county representatives).

“I don’t feel like there’s enough information for the counties to cast a vote on this,” offered former Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, one of MACo’s representatives on the Commission. During its December meeting, the Commission effectively resolved to deliver policy recommendations at this juncture, but to delay work on the various formula changes — including those affecting the split of actual costs between the State and counties — for another year. MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson, sitting in for Montgomery COunty Council Member Craig Rice, also abstained from the vote, citing the same concern.

From coverage of the meeting and plan in the Baltimore Sun:

The proposal calls for sweeping statewide changes in the operation of public schools, including an overhaul of curriculum, raising professional standards for teaching, and a redesign of high schools to include career paths for students that would certify them to be ready for specific jobs after graduation.

Among other changes, the commission also proposes that schools offer pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, pre-school for 3-year-olds from low-income families, and spend more to enhance special education programs.

An accounting of the phased-in costs for the entire program shows it reaching a $3.8 billion price tag by the year 2030. However, the much-discussed “ten year phase-in” belies the fact that over 80% of the new costs (about $3.1 billion) are triggered by “year three” of the calculations, or FY 2023.

Materials distributed for the January 18 meeting (along with all those from prior meetings) are available online.

Senator Paul Pinsky, a Commission member who chaired one of its work groups, posted his thoughts on the plan via Facebook:

Senator Pinsky, who also Chairs the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Senate, will be among everal legislative stewards of the ambitious recommendations that now go to the General Assembly for initial implementation.

2019 Session Priorities

The Commission has recommended a spending plan for FY 2020, requiring action this session, as an interim “down payment” toward implementing its full recommendations. That one-year spending plan totaled $325 million, more than the $236 million proposed by Governor Hogan in his recently unveiled budget plan.

During the Friday meeting, House Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh indicated that the General Assembly would pursue budget reductions in the Governor’s plan to “free up the room” for the remaining FY 2020 spending. Under Maryland’s budget process, only the Governor may include funding for the year being proposed, requiring a degree of cooperation between the General Assembly and the Administration for these short term objectives to bear fruit.

One proposed element in the Commission’s articulated plan is a new $75 million investment toward teacher salaries. The document distributed to the Commission includes a reference that the funding would require a local match, but the specifics of this obligation were not fully spelled out during the meeting.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties