As the Kirwan Commission buckles down on education funding formulas, the statewide teachers union hosted a forum in Carroll County encouraging the community to contact their elected officials in support of more money for Maryland schools.

Sean Johnson, assistant executive director of political and legal affairs for the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), said a new funding formula is needed in order to address increased numbers of students in poverty, inequities in funding and the need to increase career readiness.

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The forum, hosted at Sykesville Middle School on Tuesday, was one of many scheduled to be held across the state through this fall.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula Workgroup is a subset of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, often referred to as the Kirwan Commission. At full implementation the Kirwan Commission’s reform proposals, which would be phased in over 10 years, are estimated to add about $3.8 billion per year to education spending.

The workgroup is expected to release proposals for new funding formulas before the end of the calendar year and the start of the Maryland General Assembly session in January.

When they do, MSEA and their members want elected officials to support the new formula.

The hour-long forum at Sykesville Middle was attended by about 45 people including teachers, members of the Carroll County Public Schools administration, three county commissioners and two state representatives.

The forum organizers invited Trent Kittleman, a Republican delegate for District 9A, which encompasses most of western Howard County and part of southern Carroll County, to address the audience near the beginning of the discussion. She said she anticipated that the Kirwan recommendations will be the single biggest issue the General Assembly will discuss and try to resolve in the upcoming year.

She said, “The big issue is the funding. The answer is not money. I hate to disagree, and I know this is not my forum, but there are places, particularly in Baltimore city, where money is not the answer. Accountability and consequences are the answer.”

Johnson responded that he felt it was a mixture of both money and accountability.

“When new money was put in the system between 2002 and 2008, results followed,” he said. “We saw test scores improved. We saw staffing levels improve. We saw salaries go up for educators. We saw the challenge of filling positions in our schools and programs that were being cut — we saw that reverse. And Maryland public schools were ranked number one for five years in a row following the full implementation of Thornton,” he said, referring to the Thornton Funding Formula. The most recent overhaul of Maryland education funding formulas resulted in its passing in 2002.

“That's not to say it's all about the money. But it is to say that money was a very important part of that work,” Johnson said.

Carroll County Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, Richard Weaver, R-District 2, and Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, also attended.

After the forum, Weaver, who is a retired teacher, said that today’s students are a different animal and didn’t disagree with the fact that they need supports.

But the big question is how Kirwan will be paid for, he said.

A four-person panel of Carroll countians gave testimony on reasons why more resources are needed in local schools.

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Rosemary Kitzinger, a CCPS parent and a special education advocate; Jean Lewis, president of the Carroll County NAACP chapter; Bob Lord, a former president of the Carroll County Board of Education; and Kathryn Henn, a longtime early education teacher, weighed in.

Henn said pre-kindergarten programs teach students social and emotional skills. They need these going into kindergarten where the program is an academic one.

She also said there has been a strong need for more staff members. Without enough staff, she saw students having to wait for services to address disruptions in their family life, language learning needs and undiagnosed special education needs, she said.

Lewis spoke about being part of efforts to recruit more minority teachers in Carroll.

For all teachers, she said, recruiting has been a challenge because teacher salaries are not on par with salaries of other professions that require similar qualifications.

Lord spoke about the difficulty of serving on the board and wanting to make changes but coming up against the roadblock of funding. Students who are high achieving and students who are low achieving are both in need of more support, he said.

He also spoke about the way increased funding could support career and technology education, which was his own background.

Kitzinger spoke about her experience navigating the system as a parent of children with needs for special education needs. One of her children had to move out of CCPS in high school because the public school system could not fully implement her Individualized Education Program, or IEP.

She characterized teachers in CCPS as “wonderful but overtasked.”

“We’re denying children services because we don’t have enough to go around,” she said.

Johnson then took community comment cards. Many asked about how the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations would be paid for.

“The question of how we pay for this is one that yes, there will need to be a conversation about new revenue,” he said. But he encouraged those listening not to jump to conclusions and assume massive tax increases.

He said that natural growth takes care of a large percentage. “The study says that through rising income, and therefore taxes that are associated primarily with that, that we get almost 70% of the way there,” he said.

He also spoke about casino gaming revenue for schools and new legislative measures that would lead to more state revenue from new ways of calculating sales tax for online purchases.

“There are a lot of resources that are coming online, at the state level. And there will have to be matching dollars that come online, maybe not dollar for dollar, but additional resources at the local level,” he said.

“No one here is saying this is the only way to go raise that revenue. I think the point ... is that we can all agree that we have unmet needs that need to be solved, that need to be addressed,” he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Johnson said it was the right time to be talking about these topics with elected officials.

“With the January start of the legislative session, now's really the time, as legislators are identifying their priorities, that they know their constituents expect them to take bold, meaningful action on school funding,” he said.

The MSEA’s Coalition for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future community forums will continue in other counties across Maryland throughout the fall. More information is available at www.marylandblueprint.org/.

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