A forum hosted by the Maryland State Education Association last week at Sykesville Middle School aimed to provide some insight into the much-anticipated — and in some circles, feared — changes and funding needs likely to be created through the work of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission. The teachers union is sponsoring similar forums across the state, encouraging people to contact their elected officials in support of providing more money for Maryland schools.

Sean Johnson, assistant executive director of political and legal affairs for the 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. A four-person panel of Carroll countians gave testimony on reasons why more resources are needed in local schools. They focused on adding staff for pre-kindergarten programs that teach needed social and emotional skills; recruiting and retaining teachers, particularly minorities, with salary being a major part of the equation; better meeting the needs of high- and low-performing students and providing more resources for special education.


That all sounds good. Everyone agrees keeping Carroll County among the state’s top-performing school districts is critical to getting families to move here as well as to producing well-educated graduates who’ll become the next generation of workers and leaders in Carroll. It’s tempting to say you can’t put a pricetag on the importance of education.

In reality, however, a pricetag will be put on education, with some counties bearing more of a burden than others. 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. “I have no idea how we’re going to be able to afford that,” County Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District I, said at a commissioners meeting last month. Detailed proposals for new funding formulas are expected before the end of 2019, prior to the start of the Maryland General Assembly session in January 2020.

The forum organizers invited Del. Trent Kittleman, a Republican who represents District 9A, which encompasses most of western Howard County and part of southern Carroll County, to address the audience. She said she anticipated Kirwan recommendations will be the biggest issue the General Assembly will discuss and try to resolve. Kittleman provided some needed balance at the forum.

“The big issue is the funding. The answer is not money," she said. "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, noting that when new money was put in the system under the Thornton Funding Formula from 2002 to 2008, results followed. “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,” he said. “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 encouraged people not to assume massive tax increases are inevitable to fund the recommendations. He said natural growth — more tax money because of rising income — could "get almost 70% of the way there.” Also of help is that last November, Maryland voters passed Question 1, which guarantees the money from casino revenues actually goes to education. “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. “We can all agree that we have unmet needs that need to be solved.”

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, a retired teacher who attended the forum, told us he agreed that today’s students differ from those of yesteryear and that they need support. But the big question, he said, is how Kirwan will be paid for.

Indeed it is. And it’s a question that will be heavily debated through next spring and, probably, beyond.