Early childhood education, funding — especially for state-mandated programs — teacher compensation, and help for low-income and minority groups were the major concerns Marylanders raised Thursday night at the hearing for the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.
The 25-person commission, known as the Kirwan Commission after Chairman William Kirwan, is made up of senators, delegates and other leaders across the state, including Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie.
The commission is scheduled to produce a final report and recommendations in December so that it can be considered in the legislature's 2018 session.
"We are charged with developing policies ... so that Maryland's pre-K-12 system performs at the level … of the best performing countries in the world and states in the United States," he said. "Maryland schools are OK. But they can and should be much better."
Traci Tatum, the PTA president for the Frederick County Council, spoke about the importance of education funding in the state and the importance of that funding covering programs like pre-K.
"Funding for our schools must become a priority in Maryland," she said.
Early childhood programs are needed and provide a stable foundation of learning, she added.
James Rossi, of the Washington County Teachers Association, also brought up the need for teachers informed in trauma care.
Rossi said he's had students who have seen parents shot or stabbed, students who have no home, and students who have been exposed to human trafficking.
"These traumatic experiences have a direct impact on our students' ability to learn," he added.
Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education Vice President Bob Lord said that although he did not attend the hearing, his wife did, and with Guthrie on the commission, the CCPS school board has been kept up to date on what the commission is doing.
Lord said many of the issues, like funding and early childhood education that were discussed Thursday night, affect Carroll as well.
Lord said the discussion around early childhood education, and the possibility it will be universal across the state, leaves him torn. While many children would truly benefit from a pre-K program through the school system, CCPS cannot afford to support a universally mandated program on its own.
"If the state does put in universal pre-K, it's going to put a huge strain on every school system," he said.
And, schools aren't totally equipped to handle more kids of that age group, he said, because classrooms are specific for kindergarten and pre-k.
"We are going to have to have some more adjustments to our classroom space to accommodate these young learners," he added.
Lord also said discussions about teacher salaries are happening across the state, including in Carroll. This board and the previous one prioritized funding employees at negotiated costs to compensate them fairly, he said.
Much of this comes down to funding and the funding formula, which Lord said needs updating. The current formula doesn't take into account facilities, support staff and other things that cost the school a lot of money, despite declining enrollment.
"There are many other factors that basically are fixed costs," he added.