A 25-member group made up of state lawmakers and education leaders — including Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie, on behalf of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland — are in the midst of collecting public testimony about the future of education in our state.
The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, which has more commonly been referred to as the Kirwan Commission for its chairman former University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan, will have the second of four public meetings around the state from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at LYNX at Frederick High School.
The hearing, which is open to the public, is the closest of the four to Carroll County. Anyone interested in testifying at the hearing must sign up by either emailing PreK-12InnovationandExcellenceCommission@mlis.state.md.us or calling 410-946-5510 or 301-970-5510 by noon the day of the hearing.
What becomes of the commission's work remains to be seen. At the very least, it will be re-evaluating and likely offering changes to the state's funding formula for public education. The current formula — often referred to as Thornton for Alvin Thornton, who chaired a similar commission from 1999 to 2002 — weighs the relative wealth of a jurisdiction and enrollment, among other factors, to determine the distribution of state dollars
Carroll County was a benefactor of that formula when enrollment was making huge gains while the county grew at the turn of the century, but has suffered since growth stagnated and fewer students were enrolled in CCPS. Fewer dollars from the state has put more pressure on the Board of Education to make cuts and increased the financial burden of school funding on the Board of County Commissioners.
During discussions in recent years regarding education money, while most of the focus was on what those respective boards could do in order to close gaps in funding, potential changes to the state funding formula that could benefit Carroll were always discussed in the background with hope.
Reworking the formula so that state funding doesn't fall off a steep cliff because of sudden changes in enrollment should be one of the primary goals of the Kirwan Commission. Carroll was joined by four other school systems, including Baltimore City, that fell into that category last year.
But after seven months of discussions, Kirwan Commission members are looking at lots of big picture education items too, ranging from higher education, teacher preparation, early childhood education, teacher salaries, career ladders, how education is approached as a whole and the number of hours in a school day, Guthrie told us, all topics that are intertwined, and all things that will likely come with a big price tag.
Guthrie said he believed that the draft recommendations coming from the Kirwan Commission, expected to be out in November before the final report in December, "will be sweeping" and "a complete change for the educational system in Maryland."
It's good that the committee is looking at best practices from across the world when it comes to education, in an effort to make Maryland's public school system the best it can be. But significant changes are often just a euphemism for more dollars, much like Thornton in 2002. So while Kirwan could end up "fixing" the funding formula to avoid steep, sudden declines in state funding, it may ultimately cost taxpayers more once recommendations are implemented.
Ultimately, any recommendations will end up in the hands of the legislature, meaning education funding will likely dominate much of the 2018 General Assembly session discussion and carry over as a hot topic in the gubernatorial election later that year.
Thursday's public hearing is an opportunity for local residents to voice concerns about what the future of public education in the state should look like and, specifically, how Marylanders are going to be able to afford it.