ANNAPOLIS — Democratic leaders in the General Assembly Tuesday put down a $1 billion marker on an education funding plan.
The bill, introduced Monday in both the House and Senate, comes as lawmakers still have yet to identify a way to pay for the nearly $4 billion proposal commonly known as the Kirwan Commission recommendations. Supporters, however, are vowing to make it happen even as the state is preparing to lower revenue expectations by $350 million over two years.
“It’s going to take a lot of effort to get it done,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “We’re going to make it happen. Robert Moses said once you put it down they’ll never make you pull it back up. We’re going to put that post down. They’re not going to make us pull it back up.”
The proposal calls for $325 million in fiscal 2020 and another $750 million in fiscal 2021. Money in the proposal will go to:
- Expanding full-day pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds.
- Funding for struggling learners.
- Funding for community school coordinators and health practitioners in every school that has 80 percent or more concentrated poverty.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s and a member of the Kirwan Commission said the package of reforms proposed in this bill and coming next year will be transformative.
“Seems that over the last 30, 40 years a magic pill has been proposed every four or five years for transforming schools,” said Pinsky, who is also chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. “Well, 30, 40 years later none of these pills have come up with the solution of transforming our schools across the state or for that matter the nation.”
“This is the package,” he said. “There’s no magic pill, no simple solution for transforming schools. I believe this blueprint is going to be the envy of the other 49 states.”
Additionally, lawmakers plan to set aside $500 million for school construction and renovation requests.
A hearing on the bill, filed nearly two-thirds of the way through the 90-day session, is scheduled for Wednesday in the Senate.
The proposal and hearing comes just days before thousands of teachers are expected to descend on Annapolis to rally for additional education funding.
Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, supports the bill, which includes provisions for teacher raises.
“We’ll be working to make sure the funding follows this bill because that’ll be the key to success in our schools,” said Bost.
The bill also has local government officials scrambling to understand the effects on county budgets before Wednesday’s hearing.
One known provision is a cost to local governments for teacher raises.
Overall, the price tag for fully funding Kirwan is staggering — $4 billion annually, not including inflation, when fully phased in over a decade.
“Of course there are substantial costs to implementing these recommendations, but we have to think what are the costs of not doing this,” said William “Brit” Kirwan, chair of the commission that has come to bear his name.
Fiscal leaders, including Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery and chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, will be tasked with finding the money to pay for the plan at the same time the state is likely to reduce revenue expectations by $350 million over the current year and next.
“The plan to fund it?” said House Speaker Michael Busch. “The plan is to take money in the budget and fund it. We’ll have to make tough decisions. We make tough decisions down here all the time.”
Busch said some “other programs will be cut” but offered no specifics.
“No doubt about it but this is priority No. 1,” said Busch.
A document handed out by Busch’s office to reporters prior to the news conference noted the possibility of revenue write-downs possibly requiring reductions in the proposed plan.
“We are anticipating a significant write-down,” McIntosh said.
To pay for the first installment, the legislature plans to use $200 million set aside for Kirwan from last year plus $36 million budgeted by Gov. Larry Hogan.
McIntosh said an additional $65 million from the education trust fund proposed by Hogan for programs other than Kirwan will also be used.
Funding for coming years, including next year’s $750 million installment, are less clear.
King, the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, grimaced when asked about paying for next year.
“We have to find $750 (million),” said King. “It’s a lot of money.”