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Md. lawmakers advance preliminary education reform recommendations


‘Maryland schools at present are a long, long way from being the best,’ says William ‘Brit’ Kirwan, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland and head of a commission examining school funding issues in Maryland. (Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Lawmakers announced a nearly $33 million education proposal they said would be the first steps to improving Maryland’s public school system in advance of what is expected to be groundbreaking recommendations slated for the end of the year.

The announcement comes on the same day that William “Brit” Kirwan, chairman emeritus of the University System of Maryland and chair of the state commission reviewing state education policy and funding, released a preliminary report. Lawmakers vowed that the preliminary and final recommendations of the 25-member commission will provide a road map to Maryland creating a best in the nation K-12 education system.

“Maryland simply cannot expect to be globally competitive if it doesn’t have the workforce to match,” Kirwan said. “To get there, we need to make sure all of our citizens are equipped with the knowledge and skills to have successful careers and a high quality of life.”

Kirwan said Maryland is “not where we should be” when it comes to meeting those goals. “Maryland is in the middle of the pack at best with achievement gaps based on race and socio-economic status that are unacceptable,” he said. “Maryland schools at present are a long, long way from being the best.”

Kirwan’s commission is charged with updating a 2002 education funding formula, commonly called the Thornton Formula, that pushed $1.3 billion into education once it was fully phased it. Additionally, the panel will make policy recommendations to improve classroom performance.

The commission isn’t expected to deliver final recommendations until the end of the year, after the 2018 election but before the General Assembly and governor are sworn in in January.

Lawmakers said they plan to implement preliminary recommendations this year, as part of the preparation for those final recommendations, at a cost of about $25 million. The provisions include:

  • $250,000 for a program to encourage the top 25 percent of high school graduates to pursue teaching careers.
  • Requiring $2 million in the budget annually for 100 teaching scholarships.
  • $2.5 million for 50 grants for early literacy programs in schools with high rates of free and reduced meal participants.
  • $5 million annually for grants for programs that would provide extended learning day and summer programs for students in schools with high rates of free and reduced meal participants.
  • Development of career and technical education programs at a cost of $2 million annually.
  • Expansion of pre-kindergarten classes for low-income 4-year olds by mandating state spending be maintained at the fiscal 2019 level, including $15 million annually to replace federal funding along with the $8 million state match.
  • $350,000 for a consultant to study current costs of special education and develop a funding formula for students in special education.

“We thought it was important to start down the path,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s. “This legislation is the precursor to the full bill that is going to come next year but it has all the elements of the bill, it’s just the beginning steps.”

Kirwan said the state will likely have to spend more on education, including all day pre-kindergarten, increased teacher salaries and certification standards, and curriculum improvements that would allow students in their last two years of high school to begin rigorous college prep classes or to earn an associate’s degree.

The costs of the programs that are likely to be recommended could be staggering. Thornton cost a budget-busting $1.3 billion to implement once it was phased in. No price tag has been set on the Kirwan recommendations, but some lawmakers acknowledge it could be expensive.

In an interview last month, Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said it was unknown how the costs of the program would be funded. When asked, McIntosh said she could not rule out the prospect of a tax increase.

Additionally, some say the recommendations will push more money into poorer jurisdictions at the expense of richer ones, such as Montgomery County — a concern that some feel led to pushing back a final report until the end of this year.

“That suspicion is just flat-out wrong,” Kirwan said.

Del. Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County and House speaker pro tem, agreed with Kirwan, calling the suspicions “absolutely not true.”

“We could have rushed to have something last year, but you want to do it right. You want it and our citizens and parents and children deserve it. To said that, that’s sort of an insult to us and all the hard work and hours we’ve put in.”



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