Politicians and educational advocates are debating the merits — and costs — of recommendations for Maryland’s public schools made by the Kirwan Commission. Here are answers to some key questions about one of Maryland’s most significant public policy issues.
What is the Kirwan Commission?
The Maryland General Assembly created the commission in 2016 with the charge of making recommendations on how to prepare students for college or the workforce so they can “meet the challenges of a changing global economy” and “be successful citizens in the 21st century.”
It’s officially called the “Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education,” but many people call it the “Kirwan Commission,” after its chairman, William E. “Brit” Kirwan. A former chancellor of the University System of Maryland and former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, he was appointed chairman jointly by Gov. Larry Hogan, the state Senate president and the state House speaker.
The 26-member commission is comprised of several state lawmakers, the state’s schools superintendent, Hogan’s budget secretary, the chancellor of the university system and representatives from state and local school boards, teachers’ unions, school administrators, parents and others.
What’s it recommended?
The commission studied educational policy for two years, including looking at what’s worked in other states and countries.
Some of the highlights of their recommendations are:
- Expanding prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds, as well as 3-year-olds from poor families.
- Increasing the standards to become a teacher and raising teacher salaries.
- Revamping high schools to offer students training for well-paying jobs right after graduation.
- Establishing more “community schools” with additional services for students and their families.
- Providing more support to special education students and schools with concentrations of poor families.
- Creating an accountability program to make sure money for education goes where it’s supposed to.
How much will all this cost?
All of those programs would cost significantly more money then what’s spent now on education in Maryland.
The commission envisions phasing in new and expanded programs over 10 years. By that time, the state and local school systems would be putting a total of about $4 billion more into public schools per year than they would be if spending stayed on its current course.
The state’s share of the increase would be $2.8 billion at the full-phase in, while local governments would pay $1.2 billion more combined.
The city of Baltimore would bear one of the most significant cost increases: $340 million by 2030.
Who’s paying for it?
The state government and local governments jointly pay for public education, and that wouldn’t change for the programs the commission is suggesting.
The impacts of the funding formulas vary from county to county, breaking down the amount they will contribute for costs vs. the state’s contributions. Some school districts would have to come up with significantly more money, while others would need minimal to no changes on how much local money would go into schools.
Local governments get most revenue from property taxes and a county-level income tax. So, counties that need to put significantly more into public schools could look to those areas to raise money.
The state’s share is likely to come from a variety of sources. State lawmakers passed a bill in 2019 that puts Kirwan programs into the budget for three years.
Beyond those initial years, lawmakers are considering an array of options to raise money, from legalizing sports betting to boosting the state’s tobacco tax to applying the state sales tax to downloads of digital media, such as e-books and music.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson have pledged to pass the Kirwan bill without across-the-board increases in the state’s sales, income or property taxes.
Are my taxes going to go up by $6,000?
That’s something Hogan has said, but it’s highly unlikely that every Maryland family would face a tax hike of that magnitude.
The Hogan administration came up with that number by combining the extra funding needed for Kirwan with the estimated effects of a possible recession and future years’ estimated budget shortfalls, for a total of $18.7 billion. The administration then divided that among the state’s 3 million taxpayers to get an estimate of $6,000 or more per family.
The future budget shortfall is a dubious measure to use, because the state is required each year to have a balanced budget — essentially, the governor and lawmakers each year have to make adjustments to make sure any projected deficit does not materialize.
Boosters of the Kirwan plan have said some of the programs can be paid for with regular growth in state revenues, plus potential new sources of money that are being debated.
Local governments are evaluating whether they’d have to raise property or income taxes to pay their share.
When will I find out if taxes will go up?
State lawmakers will review the governor’s proposed budget and consider any tax changes during the General Assembly session that runs through mid-April.
The Kirwan recommendations, and how to pay for them, are expected to be the most intensely debated topic during the session.
Local governments approve their budgets in May and June.
Why is Hogan opposing this plan?
Hogan has said the Kirwan plans are unaffordable and has rebranded the commission as the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.” He has criticized the commission’s work as “well-meaning," but “half-baked" and “fiscally irresponsible.”
While Hogan has criticized the commission in speeches and social media, he declined an invitation to meet with the commission.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Hogan’s budget secretary, David Brinkley, is a member of the commission and has raised concerns on the governor’s behalf.
Who’s for the Kirwan recommendations?
The Maryland State Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, is backing the Kirwan proposals.
The union planned to spend $500,000 on television ads to support the additional school funding, and created a pro-Kirwan website, marylandblueprint.org.
During the 2019 General Assembly session, MSEA spent $784,000 on lobbying, the most of any cause.
A statewide nonprofit coalition called Strong Schools Maryland is promoting the Kirwan plan as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a world-class education system."
Several other advocacy groups support the recommendations, including the ACLU, Advocates for Children and Youth and Baltimoreans for Educational Equity.