Former Maryland state superintendent: Hogan is wrong about the Kirwan Commission

Gov. Larry Hogan has staked out an anti-public education position by declaring the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission “half-baked” and asserting there will be no major tax increase so long as he is governor.

It’s time to set the record straight. His assertion about the commission’s plan being half-baked is factually wrong, and his stance on taxes is based on the wrong question.


Some facts are in order.

1. Maryland students perform poorly. Data from the National Assessment of Education Progress reveals that Maryland was the only state in the nation to decline in math and reading at both the 4th and 8th grade levels. Maryland performs in the middle of states in the U.S., which, itself, performs in the middle of developed countries internationally.


2. Maryland is not producing graduates to fuel a strong economy. Less than 40% of Maryland high school graduates are college or career ready (defined by the state as able to read at the 10th grade level and pass Algebra I).

3. Maryland’s public education system is highly inequitable. Fifty-three percent of African-American students attend an underfunded school compared to 8% of white students. Nearly half of African-American and Latino students attend school in one of the state’s three most underfunded districts – districts where education budgets are $4,000 per student ($100,000 per classroom of 25) less than called for by the last state education commission.

4. Maryland’s crime rate is high, resulting in high rates of incarceration. A state legislative study revealed that in one year, Maryland taxpayers spent $427 million incarcerating 12,000 high school dropouts.

By calling the Kirwan Commission recommendations “half-baked,” Governor Hogan is adopting a tactic from President Donald Trump, the leader of the governor’s political party in Washington, who routinely resorts to inaccurate rhetoric. The Kirwan recommendations were carefully conceived by analyzing practices in other countries and states that are among the best-performing in the world. Governor Hogan, ironically, overlooks the unanimous support Republicans in the Maryland Senate gave for the same policies the governor describes as “half-baked.”

The reality is that high-performing systems provide for their children at an early age. The Kirwan Commission recommends universal prekindergarten for all low-income students at age 3 and for all students at age 4.

High-performing systems also make teaching a highly valued profession. The Kirwan blueprint recommends compensation for teachers equivalent to other professions requiring the same education, a merit-based career ladder, national board certification for teachers, and a professional working environment mirroring international best practices.

And high-performing systems educate children from low-income families comparably to children from more affluent families. The Kirwan recommendations would make Maryland the first state in the nation to recognize concentrated poverty in its funding formula. The plan also calls for establishing far more schools as “community schools,” giving them new resources and partnerships to better serve children from low-income communities.

The recommendations are well-grounded in rigorous research. I urge all Marylanders to read the plan. It lays out a vision of schools that have the resources we need to nurture and guide children and prepare them to success in work or college.


The governor’s comments on taxes are also misleading.

The Governor begins from the question, “how much can we afford to spend?” The Kirwan recommendations are premised on the question the legislature instructed the commission to answer: “what must Maryland do to provide a world-class education for all its students?”

The answer to that question reveals that new education spending is an investment that will produce an enormous return for all Marylanders.

Framed another way, the question is what must Maryland do to produce a highly trained workforce? What must Maryland do to reduce crime? What must the state do to give all Marylanders a real opportunity for educational success regardless of race, income, language or disability? The commission has answered those questions with a blueprint grounded in real-world educational practice.

Finally, the governor is echoing his party’s national leader by resorting to scare tactics. He speculates that huge increases in various taxes would be necessary. There is no legitimate basis for such speculation. He knows such dramatic increases are not necessary if he sits down with the legislative leaders and examines options with them.

Maryland has a once in a generation opportunity to build its economy, reduce crime and improve health – by dramatically improving the education performance of all of the state’s students, equipping them to be college and career ready


The Kirwan Commission calls on us to do that by using proven practices. We must seize the moment and disregard the scare tactics and bad facts that define the governor’s position.

Maryland needs Governor Hogan to be a true leader and work with the legislature to make the necessary investments in Maryland’s future.

David W. Hornbeck is the former state superintendent of schools in Maryland and the former superintendent of schools in Philadelphia. His email is

Correction: An earlier version of this op-ed incorrectly indicated that a phrase attributed to Gov. Larry Hogan about his unwillingness to raise taxes was a direct quotation. It was a paraphrase of a speech in which he said, “paying for these proposals and the budget deficit they create would require a 39% increase in the personal income tax, an 89% increase in the sales tax, or a staggering 535% increase in the property tax. I know that county leaders are just as concerned as I am and as taxpayers are. So, let me just be crystal clear: not a single one of those things is ever going to happen as long as I’m governor.”