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Group has reached deadline for $4B Md. education reform cost breakdown

Group has reached deadline for $4B Md. education reform cost breakdown

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William "Brit" Kirwan speaks Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)
William “Brit” Kirwan speaks during a January 2019 appearance in Annapolis. The work group he heads is expected Tuesday to produce a breakdown of how state and local governments could split the costs of a $4 billion education reform package for Maryland public schools. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Supporters and opponents of a proposed reform of public school education will finally get numbers they can crow about or shoot at.

Members of the state’s Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Work Group are expected Tuesday to vote on recommendations on how the state and local governments will split nearly $4 billion in costs over at least a decade. Despite three years of work by the Kirwan Commission and now a related offshoot, Tuesday’s meeting represents just another step to a final set of recommendations and legislation that can go before the Maryland General Assembly.

A number of thorny issues remain for Tuesday’s Kirwan work group, including how the state and local governments will split costs. The work group also is expected to finalize a recommendation on how to help jurisdictions with higher concentrations of poverty, such as Baltimore, while also not sticking them with an insurmountable mandate to increase spending by hundreds of millions of dollars.

These recommendations will likely not tell lawmakers or local governments how to pay for the anticipated increases. The General Assembly will wrestle with how to cover the costs, potentially including some sort of proposed tax increase.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has vowed to block any related tax increases. The second-term governor is said to be raising money for a potential public relations campaign to garner public support for blocking a tax hike.

Currently, the plan proposed by the full Kirwan Commission calls for a $4 billion increase in spending on public education. And while that figure would be phased in over a decade under the current proposal, as much as three-fourths of that spending could come during the first few years.

The work group or the full 25-member commission could examine other methods, including phasing the cost in more evenly over the decade. Some lawmakers have also raised the idea of extending the phase-in period to as many as 15 years.

Expenses related to the hiring of more teachers and increased salaries make up the bulk of the proposal’s cost —  $2.7 billion over a decade for salary increases, hiring more pre-kindergarten teachers and hiring additional teachers to reduce in-class time while increasing teacher preparation time.

Under the Kirwan recommendations, public school systems would seek to hire and retain highly trained and nationally certified teachers — paying them $60,000 to $80,000 annually.

Those costs also would drive up pension expenses for local governments.

The plan also calls for funding mandatory pre-K programs for poor families — prekindergarten would be optional for other families — and improve curricula for students to make them college- or career-ready. The plan also calls for closing achievement gaps between white and minority students and for accountability measures that William “Brit” Kirwan, chair of the eponymous commission and work group, said would tie funding to performance.

The costs won’t likely be split evenly between state and local government, but the costs to the 24 large political subdivisions will not be insubstantial.

Under current education funding formulas, the 23 counties and Baltimore are required to pay their share of so-called foundation formulas, but some expenses, such as special education and assistance for limited English-proficient students, are exempt.

The Kirwan work group last week indicated it will likely require local governments to fund portions of those programs. This would require a change in state law.

The requirements could put some local governments in financial difficulty. Currently, local government is roughly $600 million short of the costs of these programs recommended by Kirwan when compared to spending in fiscal 2020. And while some counties are currently contributing more, others are behind.

Counties such as Calvert and Howard are 35-40 percent ahead of estimated costs over the next decade.

Others are not so lucky, according to the preliminary estimates.

Baltimore City and Prince George’s County — the same jurisdictions seen as most in need aid and closing achievement gaps — are behind by a collective $636 million over the next decade, according to that estimate. Those two jurisdictions make up roughly 40 percent of the Democratic caucuses in both the House and Senate and would be essential to passage of legislation.

Anne Arundel County is more than $60 million behind.







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