An ambitious proposal to make Maryland’s public schools some of the best in the country — at a cost of $3.8 billion a year in additional spending — was approved Friday by a state commission.
The Kirwan commission, which worked for two years on its recommendations, still must decide how much of the added cost it thinks should be paid by the state and how much by local governments. Those crucial decisions are to be made next fall, in time for legislation in next year’s General Assembly.
The proposal calls for sweeping statewide changes in the operation of public schools, including an overhaul of curriculum, raising professional standards for teaching, and a redesign of high schools to include career paths for students that would certify them to be ready for specific jobs after graduation.
Among other changes, the commission also proposes that schools offer pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, pre-school for 3-year-olds from low-income families, and spend more to enhance special education programs.
As the General Assembly session begins Jan. 9, Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature is expected to push for a range of progressive proposals — everything from a constitutional amendment to preserve a woman's right to abortion to raising the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour.
William Kirwan, the former university chancellor who chairs the commission, said the panel looked carefully at the top performing schools in the world and adapted those standards to Maryland. The commission made slight changes Friday before approving final recommendations, which will be incorporated into a report to the legislature.
In December, legislative leaders slowed down the work of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission, saying it was too late to get such comprehensive education legislation through this year’s 90-day Assembly session. They also cited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s resistance to the amount of spending.
The delay upset advocates who had been pressing to get more funding for schools into the budget for fiscal 2020, which begins July 1. Del. Maggie McIntosh, a commission member, said that despite the delay, legislative leaders are committed to seeing more funding for education in that budget.
State school funding will increase by at least $236 million next year, McIntosh said, with $200 million set aside by the legislature last year and $36 million added by the governor.
McIntosh said legislators will have to cut from the governor’s proposed budget to identify additional money for public schools. The increase of $3.8 billion a year in aid to local school systems, if it passes the legislature next year, would be phased in over 10 years.
In its proposal, the commission has called for an increase of $325 million in state spending in the budget for the coming year that would be focused on specific priorities, including providing more money for pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds and a 3 percent increase in pay for teachers, with half of that to come from the state and half from local governments. The commission also recommends new spending for school-based health centers and for initiatives to support community schools with large numbers of poor students.
Community schools have a broader range of services to support students and their families than most public schools.
Whether the legislature will be able to find enough money in the proposed operating budget to fund all of the commission's 2020 priorities is unclear.
The commission also suggests that the legislature set aside $750 million this session for additional funding for schools in the 2021 budget year.
In a report released Friday morning, the nonprofit Maryland Center on Economic Policy recommended changes to Maryland’s tax code, sales tax and income tax that it said would increase state revenues by $1.9 billion by 2030 to fund the state portion of the policy recommendations of the Kirwan commission.
The Kirwan commission’s sweeping recommendations would require school systems to implement certain changes, and an independent oversight board would provide accountability, including the power to withhold money from school districts if leaders did not spend the money as intended or if the system was not getting results.
“The education our children is receiving today just isn’t adequate for the future,” said Kirwan, after the nearly unanimous vote. But if fully implemented, Kirwan said, he believes the recommendations would not only make Maryland schools a model for the country, but for the world.