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Funding Kirwan education plan elicits suggestions, lamentations

Bryan P. Sears//February 17, 2020

Funding Kirwan education plan elicits suggestions, lamentations

By Bryan P. Sears

//February 17, 2020

Barry Glassman, Harford County executive. (The Daily Record / Tim Curtis)
Barry Glassman, Harford County executive. (The Daily Record / Tim Curtis)

ANNAPOLIS — The leader of one Maryland County called on lawmakers to fully implement a generational expansion of public education funding and policies in one jurisdiction — Baltimore — before rolling it out to the rest of the state.

The plan commonly known as the Kirwan Commission recommendations, which will increase funding to schools by $4 billion within a decade, is seen simultaneously as an urgent need and a fiscal backbreaker. While supporters say the changes are desperately needed to address career and college readiness and narrow minority achievement gaps, critics express concerns that the plan throws money at education without a way of delivering on promised outcomes.

Harford County Executive Garry Glassman, a Republican and a member of a Kirwan Commission offshoot that examined funding formulas, urged lawmakers at a joint hearing by four committees to amend the bill to use Baltimore as a test case for the plan.

“You sort of use (Baltimore city) as the test case, the pilot,” said Glassman. “It’s probably our most at-risk system with the lowest test scores, the highest concentration of poverty and growing number of English language learners … It’s kind of the perfect test case for this model.”

Glassman said the state would pick up the full price tag for implementing the plan in the city for the first five years.

Meanwhile, the 23 other local governments would continue to implement portions of the Kirwan plan, including salary increases and the career ladder for teachers as well as special education programs. Components such as full-day pre-kindergarten classes for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, behavioral health and expensive collaborative time for teachers, would potentially be implemented starting in year six, if the results in Baltimore show the plan delivers promised results.

“In year six, do your results, your efficiencies, find out if the pilot worked and what needs to be tweaked or adjusted and roll it out in year six statewide,” Glassman, adding that if it’s found to not work: “We save a lot of money and then we make adjustments.”

Glassman broke with his Democratic county executive counterparts who testified that they supported the proposed plan.

Critics, mostly Republicans, have said the plan increases spending without providing the needed accountability to ensure that promised results materialize.

William “Brit” Kirwan, chairman of the education commission that bears his name, said a new state board charged with monitoring the implementation of plans as well as results across the state could withhold funding to force school systems to measure up. The money would be held in escrow for those schools for when they improve.

“This is real accountability,” said Kirwan. “We’re going to help everyone get it right, but we’re not going to let schools spend money in ways you didn’t intend.”

Glassman also called on the state to pick up 60 percent of the costs of the program.

As Maryland lawmakers begin to grapple with how to pay for its portion of the plan as proposed, local governments are also looking at how to cover their share, approaching $1.2 billion.

Under the current proposal, the state picks up about $2.8 billion of the $4 billion in annual costs — about 70 percent.

Glassman’s comments break with the Maryland Association of Counties, which called on the General Assembly to fully fund its own education program rather than relying on more local funding that could be difficult to come by.

“Reliance on local funds for half, or more, of education funding merely promotes and extends the resource gaps that still plague Maryland’s schools – even decades after the Thornton Commission and subsequent legislation. In the Kirwan Commission’s own research into ‘Fair Funding,’ the highest scoring state for equitable funding commits a much higher share of state funding than Maryland to achieve those goals,” the association’s statement read.  “Taking into account current county funding commitments that have exceeded state standards, a generational plan that further increases reliance on mandated county-level funding can never accomplish the most desirable and equitable outcomes.”

Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young speaks during a news conference announcing a new collaboration in an effort to reduce homelessness in Baltimore City, Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in Baltimore. Through the initiative, eligible Medicaid participants will receive permanent housing and services they need to prevent a return to homelessness. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young says he supports the Kirwan Commission proposal but is unsure how the city would pay its share of the costs. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Under the proposal, a number of counties would have to come up with hundreds of millions in new education funding by 2030. Prince George’s County would have to provide $386 million. Similarly, Baltimore city and Montgomery County would be in the hole to the tune of $340 million and $294 million, respectively.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young told lawmakers the city was committed to implementing the program but also questioned how his jurisdiction would come up with its share.

“I have taken no option off the table when to meet our local obligation when this bill is passed,” said Young. He immediately added that the city has no ability to raise personal income or property taxes — already some of the highest in the state — and that one-third of the property cannot be taxed because it is held by nonprofits.

“While I am committed to doing more locally to provide additional financial support, ($340 million) is simply beyond our capacity,” said Young. “We cannot raise taxes or cut spending sufficient to meet the requirement of our local contribution as currently anticipated.”

Despite the meetings of the four committees, including the money committees in the House and Senate, lawmakers and observers looking for clues as to how the state and local governments will pay for the plan left disappointed.

“If only today’s hearing was actually about fully funding the plan …” Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, said in a message on Twitter. “There is no funding mechanism to be found anywhere in the Kirwan bill’s *199* pages. Just a lot of new spending.”

The General Assembly is considering a number of taxes, including levies on online advertising and downloads of digital content including music, books, video games and movies.

Sen Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s and chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee,  said such discussions would be held in the respective House and Senate budget committees in the near future. He cut off one lawmaker attempting to ask questions about how to pay for the proposal.

“We understand that this isn’t going to fall out of the sky without a cost,” said Pinsky.

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