The city of Baltimore would be required to nearly double its spending on public schools over the next decade under a $4 billion statewide education funding proposal that a work group advanced Tuesday.
Baltimore would need to spend $330 million more on public schools by 2030 as part of a massive boost to education proposed by the state’s so-called Kirwan commission, which has been studying how to improve Maryland’s public schools.
By 2030, the funding formulas approved Tuesday would require the state government to spend $2.8 billion more on schools and mandate $1.2 billion from local governments for their county school systems, for a total boost of $4 billion annually.
The money would go to a variety of programs, including increasing teacher salaries, putting more counselors and health professionals in schools, giving extra support to schools with many poor students, improving career preparation programs and giving teachers money for school supplies. The commission’s goal has been to return Maryland’s schools to the best performing in the nation.
The plan was cheered by education advocates, but received swift condemnation from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who warned it would require significant tax increases.
The commission was not charged with suggesting how state and local governments would pay for the increased spending. That will be left to the governor, state lawmakers and local leaders.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said in an interview the Democratic mayor supports increasing funding for city schools. But he noted the fiscal realities in Baltimore could make large spending increases difficult.
“From the mayor’s perspective, he’s committed to being the first mayor in recent memory to substantially increase spending on our schools,” Davis said.
Davis said it was “premature” to talk about potential tax increases or cuts to other departments to afford millions more for the schools.
“We know these numbers are fluid,” he said. “These numbers are likely to be adjusted.”
“Unfortunately, the Kirwan Tax Hike Commission is hellbent on spending billions more than we can afford, and legislators are refusing to come clean about where the money is going to come from,” Hogan said in a statement. “Even after more than three years of meetings, there is still no clear plan whatsoever for how either the state or the counties will pay this massive price tag.”
Hogan noted that he’s put record education funding in the state budget. Such spending is largely driven by budget formulas created by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chairman of what is officially called the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, said it’s vital for governments to make investing in children a top issue.
“It comes down to priorities,” he said in an interview. “The money is there in every jurisdiction. Where do they want to spend it?”
The next step will be for the full commission to review the funding recommendations, a process that will involve public discussion. From there, the recommendations will go to the governor and state lawmakers to consider. The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 30.
Joan Carter Conway, a former Democratic state senator from Baltimore who sits on the commission, expressed doubts that the money for the local government contributions could be found in the impoverished parts of the state.
“Given the dynamics of specifically what’s happening in the poorer jurisdictions, especially Baltimore city, it’s dreamland to sit here and believe that we will be able to pay,” she said.
Conway said later that she supports the recommendations, but she is worried about whether Baltimore can afford to pay for them.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said she’s exploring having charities and foundations help foot the bill. McIntosh said she and Kirwan have a meeting Wednesday with philanthropists to discuss the idea.
“I think there’s a place for them to help,” she said.
But McIntosh said Baltimore city and other local governments will have to make serious decisions about their budget priorities, referencing specifically the $509 million in the city budget for the Baltimore Police Department.
“There’s some who believe, and I’m one of them, that $300 million invested upfront in children — keeping schools open after school, on Saturdays, in the summer, providing education and cultural activities for kids — might actually help the problem that police have not yet been able to address,” McIntosh said.
The work group approved the recommendations on an 11-0 vote, with Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and state Budget Secretary David Brinkley abstaining.
“Given the dynamics of specifically what’s happening in the poorer jurisdictions, especially Baltimore city, it’s dreamland to sit here and believe that we will be able to pay.”
Joan Carter Conway, former Democratic state senator from Baltimore and commission member
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The amount of the proposed spending increases gave Glassman pause. The Republican represents local governments on the commission. Glassman said the state’s counties “are affected dramatically and in different ways.” Plus, he said, county leaders have had little time to study the potential impacts.
Michael Sanderson, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said in an interview that local governments will have to make tough budget choices.
“I don’t think you can nip and tuck your way to finding 20, 30, 40% more in school funding," Sanderson said. "There’s only so many positions you can leave vacant at your 911 call center or just say, ‘We’re not going to do planning permits any more.’ ... You can squeeze other services, but ultimately there’s only so far you can go.”
When the spending is fully phased in, Baltimore County, for example, would need to add $88 million more to its annual education funding, a 9% increase, while Anne Arundel would have to put in $98 million extra, an 11% increase.
Some counties would have to pay nothing extra or only a few percent more. Carroll and Howard counties would not be required to add extra funding. Harford County would be required to spend $9.2 million more, or 3%, by 2030.
The counties wouldn’t have to start adding more to their education budgets for another year, and it remains to be decided how the phase-in would work.
The Baltimore-area jurisdictions also would get significantly more funding for schools from the state under the proposal: $502 million more per year for the city of Baltimore, $348 million for Baltimore County, $174 million for Anne Arundel, $110 million more for Harford and $54 million more for Carroll.
Brinkley, the state budget secretary, said he wanted the improvements the commission is seeking to be prioritized so the state could invest first in those that provide the most “bang for the buck.”
Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said he was proud to vote for the funding recommendations. He noted there was no alternative put forward by those with concerns.
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Commission member Sean Johnson represents the Maryland State Education Association, the state teachers’ union, on the panel. He called Tuesday’s action “an incredible step forward” in modernizing education funding.
“This is a big moment," Johnson said, “but just a step in the ongoing process.”
Cheryl Bost, a Baltimore County teacher and president of the union, said in a statement that she hopes state lawmakers approve the new funding plan in the 2020 General Assembly session.