Fight for increased school funding reaches final stage
After three years of meetings, research, and public hearings about Maryland’s underfunded public schools, on November 21 the Kirwan Commission held its final meeting and took its final votes.
So what does it all mean for students, educators, and schools? And what’s next in the years-long fight to make sure that every student and every school has the resources that they need?
The commission was created by the General Assembly in 2016 following unanimous votes in favor in both the Senate and House. The commission is chaired by former University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, who was jointly appointed by Governor Hogan, the Senate, and the House. About two dozen legislators, education advocates, school leaders, and higher ed representatives comprised the commission, which was charged with “provid[ing] recommendations on preparing students in the State to meet the challenges of a changing global economy, to meet the State’s workforce needs, to be prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce, and to be successful citizens in the 21st century.”
At one of its initial meetings, the commission received a report from national school funding experts identifying a funding shortfall of $2.9 billion statewide as of the 2015 school year, or about $2 million per school.
The commission looked at high-performing states and countries, hearing from experts and gathering best practices that could be implemented here in Maryland.
Their recommendations include proven measures such as expanding career technical education, community schools, and pre-k; increasing educator pay; hiring more educators to increase individual attention for students and to expand teacher planning and collaboration time; and providing more support for special education and mental health services. Phased in over 10 years, implementing these recommendations would lead to an additional $4 billion invested in public schools across Maryland.
The commission has also proposed the creation of an independent oversight board of education policy experts that will help ensure that implementation goes according to plan and stays on schedule, as well as the development of expert review teams that would include teachers and help with the implementation of particular policies such as expanding career technical education programs. These accountability measures would supplement new accountability steps passed by the General Assembly during the 2019 session, including an inspector general’s office and auditing process for districts to demonstrate they are using the funding for the specific policies outlined in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
The Kirwan Commission’s work has been supported by dozens of education advocacy, trade, and community organizations, and Marylanders’ support for increasing school funding has been seen in poll after poll after poll.
Passed on the heels of the March for Our Schools, the 8,500-strong rally of educators, parents, and students held in Annapolis in March 2019, the Blueprint provides funding and direction for the first three years of implementation of the Kirwan Commission recommendations.
Specifically, the bill funded:
• Increases for educator salaries
• Expanded pre-k
• Increased special education staffing
• Increased mental health staffing
• 200+ community schools
During the 2020 session, the General Assembly is expected to take up the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission and build out a full phase-in for the Blueprint by adopting a new funding formula.
The Kirwan Commission recommendations are now forwarded to the General Assembly and governor. The legislative session begins on January 8, 2020 and ends on April 6 at midnight. Within that 90-day window, legislators will debate, potentially amend, and vote on a new funding formula and how the Blueprint will be implemented and funded.
It’s critical that Marylanders use their voices and urge legislators to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure that every student in every neighborhood has a great public school and the support and opportunities they need to be successful.