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Carroll County legislators express concern Kirwan Commission will be ‘boondoggle,' criticize Baltimore schools

State Del. Trent Kittleman, R-9A, speaks to members of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce at the legislative kickoff breakfast meeting Jan. 3, 2020 at Carroll Hospital.
State Del. Trent Kittleman, R-9A, speaks to members of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce at the legislative kickoff breakfast meeting Jan. 3, 2020 at Carroll Hospital.(Mary Grace Keller)

On the cusp of the 2020 General Assembly, politicians representing Carroll County offered their hopes and concerns for the year ahead in Annapolis at a legislative kickoff breakfast meeting Friday in Westminster.

Politicians spoke for a few minutes each then took questions from the audience. In attendance at the Carroll Hospital East Pavilion were Del. Trent Kittleman, R-9A; Del. Susan Krebs, R-5; Sen. Justin Ready, R-5; Del. April Rose, R-5; and Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5.

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The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, more commonly known as the Kirwan Commission, quickly emerged as the morning’s hot topic.

Last year, Maryland lawmakers passed a law funding the commission’s recommendations for three years. This year, they are expected to put funding formulas into low to balance future costs between the state and the counties, according to The Baltimore Sun.

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Shoemaker lamented how the state will afford the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations.

The funding and spending recommendations vary across the state, and currently it appears Carroll County would not have to expend additional local funding for state schools. However, some Carroll politicians are skeptical of whether other jurisdictions will be able to pay their share — Baltimore city would have to nearly double its spending — and fear the entire state will have to contribute.

Shoemaker compared the Kirwan Commission’s proposal to the stormwater remediation fee, the so-called “rain tax," that the General Assembly passed in 2012.

“We still haven’t figured out really how we’re going to pay for this,” Shoemaker said. “And I think that’s the ultimate tragedy of the Kirwan Commission. And I’ve got to say, I’m a believer that this Kirwan bill is going to be the biggest boondoggle foisted upon the taxpayers of Maryland since the rain tax. So, get ready folks, 'cause here it comes.”

Rose described the Kirwan Commission as “frustrating,” but said there are good ideas in the proposal.

“This has such a big price tag, and there are so many really good things we could do in education, that would not cost a lot,” Rose said.

Rose said she’s been working on ways to provide more educational opportunities to students in trades and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).

Members of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce asked questions of politicians representing Carroll County as they prepared to head to Annapolis for the start of the 2020 legislative session. The chamber held a legislative kickoff breakfast meeting Jan. 3, 2020 at Carroll Hospital. Pictured standing is state Sen. Justin Ready, R-5.
Members of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce asked questions of politicians representing Carroll County as they prepared to head to Annapolis for the start of the 2020 legislative session. The chamber held a legislative kickoff breakfast meeting Jan. 3, 2020 at Carroll Hospital. Pictured standing is state Sen. Justin Ready, R-5.(Mary Grace Keller)

Krebs recognized the need to improve education in Maryland, particularly in Baltimore city. She reminded those present of the previous actions by the so-called Thornton commission, which created a funding system to help schools that did not have the outcome some delegates hoped for, Krebs said.

Krebs, who serves on the Health and Government Operations committee, rebuffed the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana and taxing it to help pay for the Kirwan recommendations.

‘Everything in Baltimore city does not work’

Krebs also said she wants to improve healthcare.

“We need access to affordable, quality healthcare,” Krebs said.

She cited growing drug costs, access to care, the opioid epidemic, and medical malpractice as top concerns.

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Ready touched on the crime rate in Baltimore and how it’s affecting other parts of the state.

“Crime in Baltimore is out of control and destabilizing our entire region,” Ready said.

Ready said there will likely be another push by some politicians to regulate long guns, such as rifles. He suggested swift, consistent punishment would help deter crime.

“What they don’t do in Baltimore city is when you commit a crime there are not swift and certain accountable actions,” Ready said. “We’re seeing a big problem in the city and that affects our business community because if Baltimore is unsafe, if the Baltimore region is unsafe, [it] makes it hard for us to conduct business.”

Those in the audience sought answers to Kirwan, asking politicians to hold schools accountable to ensure funding is spent wisely and what would happen if Carroll has to contribute dollars. Some of the representatives criticized Baltimore for the state’s failures in education.

“Although I represent the two best school systems in the entire state, I have been focused on Baltimore city ever since I was on the judiciary committee because everything in Baltimore city does not work,” Kittleman said.

State Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5, speaks to members of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce at the legislative kickoff breakfast meeting Jan. 3, 2020 at Carroll Hospital.
State Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5, speaks to members of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce at the legislative kickoff breakfast meeting Jan. 3, 2020 at Carroll Hospital.(Mary Grace Keller)

“They’ve (Baltimore city) underfunded their own schools. That’s what’s happened over the years, over many years,” Ready said.

Rose called for flexibility to allow students to attend charter schools so they aren’t “stuck” in a “bad school” where they lack opportunities.

Kittleman compared Baltimore to Washington, D.C., where there are more charter schools.

“You’re not trying to replace public schools. What has happened is that public schools now facing a little bit of competition have improved themselves. But we’re not being allowed to do any of that because of the nature of our legislature,” Kittleman said.

The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce puts on the event each year to give business owners the chance to learn what upcoming legislation may affect them, Chamber President Mike McMullin said.

At the close of the event, McMullin encouraged citizens to connect with their representatives. Last year, the Chamber’s legislative committee wrote nearly 100 letters to members of the General Assembly advocating for businesses’ interests.

The 2020 legislative session begins Jan. 8.

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