Carroll County was told it would not have to provide additional local education funding if the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations became law, but the county’s legislative liaison said Thursday other possibilities that would cost Carroll money aren’t out of the question.
Michael Fowler serves as the county’s liaison to Annapolis by monitoring legislation for its impact on Carroll and articulating the county’s position to legislators, he said. Less than a month into the 2020 legislative session, he came to the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday to provide an update.
The “theme” of the session, from Fowler’s perspective, is Kirwan.
Last year, Maryland lawmakers passed a law funding recommendations made by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, more commonly known as the Kirwan Commission, for three years. This year, they are expected to put funding formulas into law to balance future costs between the state and the counties.
Among the recommendations are expanding pre-kindergarten to include all 4-year-olds, and to 3-year-olds from low-income families; increasing teacher salaries; upgrading high schools to provide technical education; establishing community schools for low-income areas; and expanding special education to focus on low-income families, Fowler said.
The changes would be made over a period of 10 years, costing the state $4 billion in new revenue. To fund this action, the state’s share of the increased costs would be $2.8 billion at the full phase-in, while local governments would pay $1.2 billion more combined.
Under the current proposal, Carroll would not be required to expend additional local funding for state schools, but other jurisdictions are expected to contribute millions of dollars. It’s proposed that Prince George’s County would contribute more than $360 million, and Baltimore City would be on the hook for about $329 million, according to Fowler.
“From a political perspective, the assembly is going to need the votes from Prince George’s and Baltimore City to pass a Kirwan bill," Fowler told the commissioners. "They’re fully committed to passing the Kirwan bill, so I think that there’s going obviously be some changing in that funding arrangement in order to get those votes.”
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, asked whether there’s potential for Carroll to fund shortfalls of other jurisdictions.
“I think it’s totally within the realm of possibility that you may be asked to either provide more, or there will be some way that funding is directed away from other programs toward this,” Fowler said.
“So even though we meet our requirement in our jurisdiction we could still have to pony up, so to speak, to help out the other jurisdictions," Bouchat said.
“The shares could very well change,” Fowler replied.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, suggested that the changes to pre-k could be a boon to business if the Kirwan Commission considers certifying private institutions. Fowler noted the expansion of pre-k would likely require additional space in existing schools.
Funding ideas being floated in Annapolis to pay for the commission’s ideas include legalizing sports gambling at casinos and horse racing tracks, and taxing digital advertising, according to Fowler.
Plastic bag ban seen as likely
On another major topic relating to state law, “We probably will see a plastic bag ban this year,” Fowler said.
The ban could eliminate plastic bags from grocery stores and charge a 10-cent fee for paper bags, with the fee revenue benefiting the retailer, according to Fowler. The bill would require county governments to enforce the plastic bag ban, Fowler said, so the Maryland Association of Counties, or MACo, is trying to secure a portion of that paper bag fee for counties.
“So we’ll be the foam (Styrofoam) police and the plastic bag police,” Bouchat said.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, suggested that if the General Assembly had enacted enabling legislation to allow commission counties to take action individually, then maybe a mandatory statewide ban would not be surfacing now. Commissioner-run counties may only legislate in areas that the General Assembly has given them the authority to do so.
“If counties had the ability to do it on their own, if they wanted to, then you don’t have to force people to do it. But it didn’t go that way,” Frazier said.
Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said it’s in MACo’s best interest not to oppose the ban, though he personally disagrees with it.
“The expectations are that, no matter what we say, it will go through,” he said. “If we oppose it straight up, we’re out of the room and we’re not at the table at all.”
Rothstein said MACo members decided in legislative session Wednesday to support a plastic bag ban bill, with amendments. This will put MACo in the position to advocate for its interests — such as the goal to have part of the paper bag fee go toward counties — among lawmakers.
Fowler said the House and Senate versions of the bill have strong sponsors.
“It will pass. And exactly as you say, if you oppose it you’re locked out of the discussion completely," he said. "It will pass as written, and we’ll all go home empty-handed.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this story.