School fund boost mulled

Kir­wan panel con­sid­ers $4.4B an­nual in­crease to ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

A state com­mis­sion de­bat­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion to in­crease spend­ing in Mary­land’s pub­lic schools by $4.4 bil­lion an­nu­ally is run­ning up against a tight dead­line: the start of next month’s Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion.

Ad­vo­cates for pub­lic school stu­dents are push­ing the Com­mis­sion on In­no­va­tion and Ex­cel­lence in Ed­u­ca­tion to fin­ish its work be­fore law­mak­ers re­turn Jan. 9. But the com­mis­sion has yet to ar­rive at a price tag for its plan to boost stu­dents’ per­for­mance — or fig­ure out how to pay for it.

Among other ini­tia­tives, the so-called Kir­wan com­mis­sion — nick­named for its chair­man, former Univer­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land Chan­cel­lor Wil­liam “Brit” Kir­wan — is con­sid­er­ing rec­om­mend­ing schools of­fer full-day ed­u­ca­tion for 3-yearolds from low-in­come house­holds; uni­ver­sal prekin­der­garten for 4-year-olds; in­creased fund­ing for schools where many stu­dents live in con­cen­trated poverty, and raises for teach­ers.

But the com­mis­sion has not reached agree­ment on fund­ing for­mu­las that would de­ter­mine how much of the pro­grams would be paid for by the state or by lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions. Law­mak­ers will likely need those de­tails be­fore they can vote to ap­prove the plan.

“We re­ally need to wrap this up, so this ses­sion we can pass a strong bill that will re­ally close the ad­e­quacy gap we’re see­ing across the state,” said Bebe Verdery, di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Mary­land’s ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram. “Kids are not get­ting what they need. It’s es­sen­tial they fin­ish their work and we can move this

“We re­ally need to wrap this up, so this ses­sion we can pass a strong bill that will re­ally close the ad­e­quacy gap we’re see­ing across the state.”

Bebe Verdery, di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Mary­land’s ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram

for­ward. … We’ll keep push­ing to help get this over the fin­ish line.”

Kir­wan said Thurs­day the body’s work could ex­tend into Jan­uary, but he vowed to get as much done as pos­si­ble be­fore the start of the ses­sion.

“We’ll get as far as we can,” he said. “We’ll have a to­tally fleshed-out pol­icy doc­u­ment, fully costed out with an im­ple­men­ta­tion plan … The Gen­eral As­sem­bly will take our re­port and do with it what they will. If the Gen­eral As­sem­bly feels we need to do more work, they can ask us.”

Mem­bers of the 25-mem­ber com­mis­sion de­bated Thurs­day in An­napo­lis whether their rec­om­men­da­tions were af­ford­able — but also whether they weren’t am­bi­tious enough.

Kir­wan urged his col­leagues to con­sider scal­ing down some aspects of their plan to be more palat­able to law­mak­ers who might balk at a high 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.

Oth­ers, though, thought the com­mis­sion’s pre­lim­i­nary pro­posal — to phase in an an­nual in­crease to school fund­ing of $4.4 bil­lion over a decade — had al­ready been shrunk enough from ear­lier, higher rec­om­men­da­tions.

“We al­ready made a lot of con­ces­sions. Each work group made a lot of con­ces­sions in the name of af­ford­abil­ity,” said com­mis­sion mem­ber Kal­man "Buzzy" Het­tle­man.

“I would like to leave it to the po­lit­i­cal process to pare this back. This is a good place for the leg­is­la­ture to come in,” said com­mis­sion mem­ber Mar­garet Wil­liams, the di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Fam­ily Net­work.

Steven Her­shkowitz, a spokesman for Mary­land’s teach­ers union, said stu­dents have lost out ev­ery year fund­ing wasn’t boosted in Mary­land — and shouldn’t have to wait an­other year.

“It’s been more than two years since this com­mis­sion re­ceived a re­port that said pub­lic schools are un­der­funded by $2.9 bil­lion ev­ery year,” Her­shkowitz said. “That’s less school coun­selors than [stu­dents] might have had. That’s less in­di­vid­u­al­ized in­struc­tion than they might have had. That has some real im­pli­ca­tions for stu­dents. We’re hope­ful, even though time is run­ning out, they can fin­ish their work.”

Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan won re­elec­tion in Novem­ber in part by run­ning on a mes­sage of pro­vid­ing ro­bust school fund­ing, but also by promis­ing fis­cal re­straint.

Ho­gan’s spokes­woman, Amelia Chasse, said the gov­er­nor is await­ing the re­sults of the com­mis­sion’s work. She noted Ho­gan has urged the com­mis­sion to in­clude ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures in its pro­pos­als.

“Gov­er­nor Ho­gan looks for­ward to work­ing with the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers and the com­mis­sion to en­sure strong ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures are a key com­po­nent of this once- in- a- gen­er­a­tion op­por­tu­nity to strengthen Mary­land's ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem,” Chasse said in a state­ment.

If the pre­lim­i­nary rec­om­men­da­tions of the com­mis­sion stand, it would mean an es­ti­mated 30 per­cent in­crease to school fund­ing lev­els in Mary­land — whose costs would be split be­tween the state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

The in­creases would be phased in, start­ing with an $800 mil­lion in­crease next fis­cal year, fol­lowed by an in­crease of about $1.8 bil­lion the year after that.

Het­tle­man de­scribed the in­creases as “ex­tremely mod­est,” es­pe­cially in the first sev­eral years.

“That is a very small amount of money for the near-term years,” he said.

But oth­ers noted the state has com­pet­ing in­ter­ests be­sides fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion, such as health care, pub­lic safety and trans­porta­tion. The state cur­rently spends about $8 bil­lion of its $44 bil­lion bud­get on ele­men­tary, mid­dle and high schools.

“It’s fas­ci­nat­ing sit­ting here to lis­ten to this, be­cause we also have se­ri­ous asks when it comes to health and health care, trans­porta­tion,” said Ho­gan’s bud­get sec­re­tary David Brink­ley, a com­mis­sion mem­ber.

Wil­liam E. “Brit” Kir­wan said his panel’s work could ex­tend into Jan­uary, but he vowed to get as much done as pos­si­ble be­fore the As­sem­bly ses­sion.

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