A state panel is recommending the state of Maryland and county governments should spend $4 billion extra on public schools, a significant step in an ongoing debate over how to return the state’s education system to the best in the nation. This issue is expected to be debated in the 2020 General Assembly session and wrestled with by county leaders who will need to find more money for schools in their budgets.
Here are answers to four key questions about the proposal.
1. What would the extra money pay for?
The money would go to a variety of programs, such as expanding prekindergarten, 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.
A significant chunk would also go toward increasing teacher salaries, in hopes of attracting and retaining high-quality teachers.
These programs are recommended by the state’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, commonly called the Kirwan commission for its chairman, William E. “Brit” Kirwan. He’s a former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, and former chancellor of the state’s university system.
2. Who pays for it all?
The Kirwan Commission had a work group that has wrestled with funding issues over the last several months.
On Tuesday, the work group settled on a plan to gradually increase funding for education each year for the next decade, topping out at $4 billion extra in 2030. That is on top of the amount of money that already would be projected to be spent on education.
The extra funding would be split between the state government and county governments. By 2030, the breakdown would be about $2.8 billion extra from the state and $1.2 billion extra combined from the city of Baltimore and the 23 counties.
By 2030, for example, Baltimore city schools would get $503 million more for schools from the state. But the city also would be required to spend $329 million more on schools, a near-doubling of what the city currently spends.
Baltimore County would get $348 million more from the state, but would also have to add $88 million more from its own budget.
3. Where will the money come from?
This is the big question that remains unanswered. The Kirwan commission was not charged with figuring out how to pay for the extra education spending.
State lawmakers already put a requirement for the state budget to include extra spending on education for the next two years. After that, the proposal calls for gradually increasing spending by 5% to 6% per year until it reaches the $2.8 billion extra from the state in 2030.
The counties and the city would have another year before they’d have to start putting more money into their budgets, and a phase-in schedule isn’t set for them yet.
There are concerns that the state, the counties or Baltimore city would have to raise taxes to pay for the extra spending on schools, but no one has officially proposed a tax increase.
Gov. Larry Hogan lambasted what he calls the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission” for putting forth a proposal that he says is sure to result in a tax increase.
“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, a Republican, said Tuesday in a statement.
Some state lawmakers have suggested ways to raise money without an across-the-board tax increase, including legalizing and taxing sports gambling and recreational marijuana, as well as getting more accurate sales tax collections from online retailers.
Michael Sanderson, director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said it will be difficult for some counties to find the money within their existing budgets.
“I don’t think you can nip and tuck your way to finding 20, 30 40% more in school funding," Sanderson said.
If the city and counties look to tax increases, they have two options: the local property tax and the local income tax, known as the “piggyback” tax.
4. What’s the next step?
The full Kirwan commission will consider this recommendation over the next several weeks. The commission could accept the recommendation or change it.
The commission is scheduled to meet Oct. 30 in Annapolis, followed by more meetings and a public hearing in November.
A final decision will be made by the end of the year, and it will be incorporated into the commission’s report to the governor and the legislature.
The General Assembly will likely consider a bill that would put the funding recommendations into law during the 2020 legislative session that begins in January. Lawmakers could change the details, as well.
Hogan has signaled that he would fight such a bill, and is raising money through a political action committee to oppose it.
Any bill passed by the General Assembly would be presented to Hogan, who could accept it or veto it.