Mary­land’s bi­par­ti­san blue­print for bet­ter schools

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - OBITUARIES -

When Mary­land leg­is­la­tors leave An­napo­lis Mon­day night, they won’t have set­tled on land­mark new fund­ing for­mu­las for the state’s schools. It looks like they won’t even man­age to ded­i­cate as much money to the causes of ex­panded early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, higher teacher salaries and more holis­tic sup­port for schools in chal­leng­ing com­mu­ni­ties, among other things, as the Com­mis­sion on In­no­va­tion and Ex­cel­lence in Ed­u­ca­tion sug­gested would be needed in the next two years.

But ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cates can come away from the 2019 Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion with a ma­jor vic­tory: truly bi­par­ti­san sup­port for the prin­ci­ples and goals of the so-called Kir­wan Com­mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tions. There will be fights to come over fund­ing af­ter the com­mis­sion pro­duces spe­cific pro­pos­als for how costs should be di­vided among the state and lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions, and as the over­all price tag in­creases dur­ing the next decade. But leg­is­la­tors demon­strated near-uni­ver­sal agree­ment that Mary­land needs to make ma­jor changes to the way it ed­u­cates its chil­dren if they are to suc­ceed in the 21st cen­tury and that the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion has pro­duced a com­pelling plan for how to do it.

The Se­nate voted 43-1 in fa­vor of Se­nate Bill 1030, The Ed­u­ca­tion Blue­print for Mary­land’s Fu­ture. The only no-vote, from Sen. Chris West, a Bal­ti­more County Re­pub­li­can, came not be­cause he op­posed the bill it­self but be­cause he was con­cerned that it was crowd­ing out fund­ing for school con­struc­tion. (His dis­trict in­cludes Tow­son and Dulaney high schools, both of which loom large in Bal­ti­more County’s school fa­cil­i­ties cri­sis.) “I hope next year we can find money not only for Kir­wan but also school con­struc­tion,” he said. Some of his fel­low Repub­li­cans spoke in fa­vor of the bill dur­ing the floor de­bate, ac­knowl­edg­ing that con­ver­sa­tions about fund­ing in fu­ture years may be harder but prais­ing Kir­wan’s con­cern not just with what we’re spend­ing on our schools but what re­sults we’re get­ting from those in­vest­ments.

The House de­bate was some­what more ide­o­log­i­cal, par­tic­u­larly in re­gard to an un­suc­cess­ful amend­ment to au­tho­rize the cre­ation of pri­vate school voucher pro­grams. But ul­ti­mately, as many House Repub­li­cans voted for the leg­is­la­tion as against it, with the GOP cau­cus of­fer­ing par­tic­u­lar praise for a pro­vi­sion of the bill es­tab­lish­ing a state-wide in­spec­tor gen­eral for schools, which has been a top pri­or­ity of Gov. Larry Ho­gan.

That’s im­por­tant be­cause Mr. Ho­gan is the big­gest wild card in the long-term de­bate about whether Mary­land will be will­ing to make the dif­fi­cult choices Kir­wan im­ple­men­ta­tion will re­quire. The com­mis­sion es­ti­mates that its rec­om­men­da­tions would in­crease what Mary­land spends on schools by nearly $4 bil­lion over cur­rent lev­els when fully phased-in a decade from now, with the costs di­vided in some man­ner be­tween state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments. Mr. Ho­gan has voiced gen­eral sup­port for the goals of Kir­wan, but he has balked at the cost. In­deed, find­ing that $4 bil­lion will al­most cer­tainly re­quire higher taxes, new rev­enue sources, cuts to other ar­eas of spend­ing or, most likely, a com­bi­na­tion of the three. De­spite the Demo­cratic su­per­ma­jor­ity in both cham­bers of the leg­is­la­ture, it will be dif­fi­cult to ac­com­plish that with­out a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment of po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal from Mary­land’s pop­u­lar Re­pub­li­can gov­er­nor.

Af­ter the Se­nate vote, a spokesman for the gov­er­nor emailed The Sun to note the in­clu­sion of the in­spec­tor gen­eral pro­vi­sion and the gov­er­nor’s con­sis­tent de­mand for “real ac­count­abil­ity as part of im­ple­ment­ing the Kir­wan rec­om­men­da­tions.” But he de­clined to answer ques­tions about whether Gov­er­nor Ho­gan is sat­is­fied with the leg­is­la­ture’s IG pro­vi­sion or whether it af­fects his over­all will­ing­ness to pro­vide fund­ing for Kir­wan rec­om­men­da­tions.

We urge Gov­er­nor Ho­gan to lis­ten to what his fel­low Repub­li­cans said about Kir­wan — that this is not about send­ing more money to schools so they can do the same thing in the same way. It’s about mak­ing strate­gic in­vest­ments in pro­grams and poli­cies that have been demon­strated to pro­duce bet­ter re­sults. It’s about mak­ing sure that Mary­land’s stu­dents grad­u­ate from high school with the equiv­a­lent of an as­so­ciate’s de­gree or an in­dus­try-rec­og­nized cre­den­tial. It’s about hold­ing school sys­tems ac­count­able for spend­ing the pub­lic’s funds in the most ef­fec­tive ways. It’s about mea­sur­ing ex­cel­lence not by what we put into our schools but by what stu­dents get out of them. If he ac­cepts that mes­sage, he will sign this bill, which marks a first step for Kir­wan, and be­come a cham­pion for mak­ing its vi­sion a re­al­ity.

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