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Business leaders urge passage of Kirwan Commission recommendations for Maryland’s public schools

More than 30 business leaders sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Larry Hogan and top legislative officials urging support of the Kirwan Commission recommendations to improve public schools. The chairman of the commission, William "Brit" Kirwan, is shown conducting a meeting Oct. 15, 2019, in Annapolis.
More than 30 business leaders sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Larry Hogan and top legislative officials urging support of the Kirwan Commission recommendations to improve public schools. The chairman of the commission, William "Brit" Kirwan, is shown conducting a meeting Oct. 15, 2019, in Annapolis. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

More than 30 business leaders wrote a letter Wednesday to Gov. Larry Hogan and top legislative officials urging support of the Kirwan Commission recommendations to improve public schools.

“We are business leaders whose lives have been committed to building the economy and providing jobs for Marylanders. Maryland employers and employees must compete with companies across the United States and across the world,” stated the letter. “To succeed in an ever increasingly competitive global economy, our state must have a world-class education system. Sadly, we don’t have that now. Significant and immediate changes in our present system are needed or Maryland will slip and all Marylanders will pay a steep and avoidable price.”

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Among those signing the letter were Jim Shea, chairman emeritus of the Venable law firm in Baltimore and former Democratic candidate for governor; Donald Manekin, the founder of the Seawall Development Co. in Baltimore, and Rick Berndt, senior partner at the Baltimore law firm of Gallagher Evelius & Jones.

The letter was sent to Hogan, a Republican; and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Senate president nominee Bill Ferguson, who are all Democrats.

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The Kirwan Commission is recommending the state expand prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds, as well as 3-year-olds from poor families; increase the standards to become a teacher and raise teacher salaries; revamp high schools to offer students training for well-paying jobs right after graduation; establish more “community schools” with additional services for students and their families; provide more support to special education students and schools with concentrations of poor families, and create an accountability program to make sure money for education goes where it’s supposed to.

The commission envisions phasing in new and expanded programs over 10 years. The state’s share of the increased costs would be $2.8 billion at the full phase-in, while local governments would pay $1.2 billion more combined.

Letter to governor

Mike O’Halloran, Maryland director of National Federation of Independent Business, this week warned that Kirwan will cost a cumulative total of $32 billion over 10 years and that “will likely require massive tax hikes."

"Maryland’s economy can’t afford being in the red 26 years while it waits to pay off a $32 billion tab,” he said in a statement.

But the business leaders signing Wednesday’s letter argued the cost of allowing Maryland’s education system to decline is too great.

"This is not truly a question of, ‘Can we afford Kirwan?’ the letter stated. “The real question — and the true challenge for our state, its citizens, and the state’s political leadership — is, ‘Where are we going to be as a state if we fail to enact the commission’s recommendations?’”

Legislation to enact the commission’s long-term recommendations has yet to be drafted.

Earlier this year, Hogan allowed legislation enacting the first two years of the commission’s plans to become law without his signature.

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