xml:space="preserve">
Education advocates wearing shirts with the slogan “Our kids can’t wait” pack a public hearing of the Kirwan Commission in Annapolis on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.
Education advocates wearing shirts with the slogan “Our kids can’t wait” pack a public hearing of the Kirwan Commission in Annapolis on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

Dozens of people in blue T-shirts packed a hearing room in Annapolis Tuesday night to deliver a message: Our kids can’t wait.

They were part of a coalition offering support for sweeping — and expensive — reforms that are proposed for Maryland’s public schools.

Advertisement

If the recommendations of the state’s Kirwan Commission are carried out, it will result in “the fundamental transformation of Maryland’s public schools,” said Joe Francaviglia of Strong Schools Maryland, one of the groups behind the blue shirt brigade that descended on Annapolis.

He urged members of the commission to stand by their recommendations and to press state lawmakers to pass legislation that will pay for them, even though some have raised concerns.

“We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said.

The Kirwan Commission, named for its chairman, former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, has been meeting for about three years to study ways to improve the quality of the state’s schools and ensure that graduates are ready for college or the workforce.

The commission’s recommendations include increasing teacher pay and licensing requirements, expanding prekindergarten, boosting support for high-poverty schools and revamping career technology education.

The commission recommends that state and local governments ramp up their spending on public schools. By the end of a 10-year phase-in, the state would spend $2.8 billion more annually and local governments would spend $1.2 billion more each year, compared to what they otherwise would spend.

That $4 billion price tag has given some people pause, including Gov. Larry Hogan and local officials who may need to drum up more money to pay for their share.

Hogan, a Republican, has decried the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations as too expensive and asserted that they will result in dramatic tax increases. Commission members and supporters have dismissed Hogan’s criticism as fear-mongering.

A contingent of more than a dozen government officials from Worcester County on the Eastern Shore stood together to ask the commission to revisit its plans for paying for the recommendations.

Worcester County Commissioner Anthony “Chip” Bertino Jr. said his county already is penalized under the current funding formulas. The county funds nearly 80 percent of the school system’s operating budget, a figure that is baked into the Kirwan recommendations, which also require the county to spend even more, he said.

The funding formulas being considered are “jarring,” said Bertino, a Republican. Even though Worcester County believes it already invests significantly in public schools, the county may need to increase taxes or cut services to meet the funding requirements called for by commission, he said.

“One size does not fit all,” he said. “Worcester County is not Baltimore City.”

Baltimore and the state’s counties would face different spending requirements under the funding formula. Baltimore, for example, would be required to increase city funding for public schools by $330 million and also would receive $500 million more from the state.

Baltimore County would only have to increase its county funding for schools by $88 million, and also would receive $348 million more from the state.

Advertisement

Despite such concerns, the majority of those who spoke during a public hearing Tuesday offered praise for the recommendations and the call for increased spending, including representatives from the Maryland State Education Association, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, Advocates for Children and Youth and others.

Montgomery County schools Superintendent Jack R. Smith said the reforms are “critical to the future of our state.”

Keegan Taylor, a student at Baltimore Polytechnic High School, was surrounded by fellow members of the Baltimore Youth Commission as she said the school reforms are needed. She noted Maryland is among the wealthiest states in the country.

“We can afford a quality education for all of Maryland’s students, regardless of ZIP code,” Taylor said. “It is not a funding question before us. It is a moral question.”

The Kirwan Commission is expected to issue final recommendations later this month. State lawmakers are expected to consider legislation based on the recommendations during the next General Assembly session that begins in January.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement