How the Kirwan Commission report could affect Anne Arundel County

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

A looming $4.4 billion recommended spending increase on education in Maryland means Anne Arundel County could see increases in teacher raises and prekindergarten funding, but state and local lawmakers will be bending budgets to meet those demands.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education met Thursday to debate a $4.4 billion increase in public education spending. The commission — nicknamed the Kirwan Commission for its chair William “Brit” Kirwan — was created in 2016 after a report showed Maryland schools were underfunded by about $2.9 billion.

The General Assembly created the commission to come up with recommendations to bridge the funding gap. The commission plans to send a report to the General Assembly in January.

The result of the commission’s work could change state funding formulas and increase education spending. Those costs would be shared by state and local governments, though how that burden is shared has not been decided. Once the commission finalizes recommendations, it is up to state lawmakers to implement the funding changes.

County Board of Education President Julie Hummer said the $4.4 billion is a large price tag that could be difficult to meet, especially for less wealthy counties or tax-adverse jurisdictions.

“We have a county that is very tax adverse, and if the county is mandated and required to put it in education, and there isn’t additional funds from elsewhere … everything else could suffer,” Hummer said. “We certainly don’t believe additional funding should come from other areas.”

The $4.4 billion being debated by the commission includes full-day education for 3-year-olds from low-income households, universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, teacher raises and increased funding for schools with students living in poverty.

Commission members debated this funding alongside other issues Thursday. Some of them floated the possibility of decreasing the recommendation while others thought the commission was being too conservative.

Prekindergarten funding would be a boon to the county — the county does not receive any per pupil funding for its prekindergarten students — but it also helps to have money that doesn’t have too many strings attached, Hummer said.

“As a board we would prefer the money be given so the schools have local jurisdiction over them,” she said. “The career and technical programs we would set up in Anne Arundel County may be different than (other counties).”

Maryland Speaker of the House Michael Busch anticipated the General Assembly would incorporate the commission’s recommendations, but that means a tighter budget as lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan search for funding.

If the commission settles on the $4.4 billion figure, it is an estimated 30 percent increase to school funding. That money would be phased in over multiple years, with about $800 million in the first year.

“Obviously Kirwan is going to have to be phased in,” Busch said. “In an area like Annapolis, we will see more resources going into Annapolis city public schools and other areas of the county like Meade and so forth.”

The commission’s report could pose tricky budget problems for new Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. His campaign promised small classrooms and higher teacher pay, both things that could be affected by the commission’s report.

Education is the largest portion of the county’s budget, so state-mandated increases means less flexibility for other funding.

Pittman — who also promised increases to public safety spending — said he is looking at all options when it comes to his upcoming budget, though it is too early to know the direct impact to the county’s budget.

“We are going to review what the commission finds, and we will step up to do our share,” said Brandi Francis, Pittman spokeswoman.

The Baltimore Sun and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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