The Kirwan Commission, officially known as the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, has recommended a number of initiatives to improve education in Maryland. Among them are free, full-day prekindergarten for low-income 3- and 4-year olds; increasing standards and services so that all students are ready for college or a career upon graduating high school; and establishing a strong accountability system to oversee its recommendations.
Should those recommendations be approved by lawmakers in Annapolis, state and local governments would be expected to spend a combined $4 billion more each year on public schools.
Baltimore City and Prince George’s leaders aren’t wrong to fret. It’s unrealistic to expect either to come up with the more than $300 million a year in additional funds on public education by the end of the decade
The recommendations ask far less of wealthier counties, but residents of Harford, Howard and Carroll should be concerned too, even if the initial numbers don’t show much cause at the moment.
Harford County, for example, is expected to spend about $9.2 million more by 2030 to implement Kirwan recommendations. Howard and Carroll counties won’t have to pay another dime, based on projections of past funding.
But those projections don’t tell the whole story. It’s highly unlikely the state will actually require poorer jurisdictions like Baltimore and Prince George’s to foot the entire $300 million-plus bill for these reforms.
That doesn’t necessarily mean other counties will have to put more aid directly into public schools. But what we could likely see is some sort of shell game, where the state subsidizes education reforms in poorer jurisdictions over time by shifting certain state-level costs to the counties and municipal governments.
Recall a decade ago when state legislators used the Transportation Trust Fund, made up of revenues collected from the gas tax, to balance the general fund.
Previously, that money had been distributed to local jurisdictions as highway user revenue, which counties and municipalities used to make repairs to local roads and other projects. Only recently has some of that highway user revenue been restored.
It was a few years later that the cost of teacher pensions were pushed onto county governments as well, a move that had an incredible impact on local education money.
While most people agree that additional funding for education and the Kirwan recommendations are worthwhile, the reality is that the State of Maryland still has no idea how it is going to pay for it all.
Past history tells us, however, the burden to do so will fall to the counties, and jurisdictions like Harford, Howard and Carroll counties, among others, may bear the brunt of it.
As the 90-day legislative session is now under way, Kirwan will be at the forefront. And while we can all agree more funding for education is important, it’s imperative that lawmakers carefully consider the long-term and further-reaching impacts of funding the Kirwan recommendations.