Digging Into “Poor County” Testimony Before the Kirwan Commission

One element raised during the Kirwan Commission’s November 12 public hearings, by one of Maryland’s lowest wealth counties raises an interstate comparison: is Maryland losing out to Delaware when it comes to a central principle of the Commission’s goals, funding equity? By one measure, yes we are.

CarolinePanelThe Kirwan Commission held public hearings on November 12, with dozens of stakeholders and multiple counties presenting their views on the Commission recommendations. See Conduit Street coverage.

From Caroline County Commission President Larry Porter’s oral testimony, delivered with the Caroline County Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia W. Saelens joining him at the witness table:

We join our education partners in having serious concerns that this funding proposal will only serve to further the divide between the achievement of the students in our poorest counties, and those in our wealthiest counties.

If you look right next door to Caroline County, in Delaware, you will find a state that is receiving high marks for equity. This is precisely because the State takes on a much larger share of the cost, helping to level the playing field between rich and poor districts.

Video link – Caroline County testimony begins at around the 2:07 mark.

This claim bears some investigation  – does Delaware really grade out that much better than Maryland?

Materials from the Kirwan Commission’s formula funding workgroup back up the claim – see this presentation from August 1 of this year, presented by the Education Law Center at Rutgers University:

SchoolFunding FairnessAug1chart

Indeed, by their measure of the funding distribution across the highest and lowest poverty districts, Delaware is the standout state in our region — earning a Grade A, while Maryland’s “regressive” system earns a Grade D.

The full presentation is available online.

MD DE GradesDelaware does, indeed, play the “senior partner” role in funding schools, as shown in a 2019 analysis from Governing magazine.

Delaware provides state funding to cover over 59% of school costs – the highest State share of any in the region shown above. Maryland’s State share is 43.6% – meaning local sources play a larger role in our school funding than in the highly-rated neighboring state.

Interested in hearing more about Kirwan? MACo is hosting a session at the Winter Conference – “Breaking Down the Blueprint: School Funding in Focus.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:




Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties