On Friday, January 18, a blue-ribbon education panel dubbed the Kirwan Commission approved its proposal for a nearly $4 billion plan focused on improving public schools in Maryland.
A few days before these final recommendations were accepted, Dr. David Hornbeck, Strong Schools Maryland Executive Committee member and former Maryland State Schools Superintendent, spoke at CCBC Essex to promote the mission of the commission and to urge residents to support the plan in Annapolis.
“We have a generational opportunity right now in Maryland,” said Hornbeck. He explained that the goals of the Kirwan Commission are to better prepare students for college and careers after graduation and without remediation, to create early educational opportunities including pre-kindergarten, and to bring about changes in the preparation, pay, and structure for the teaching profession in order to “elevate the profession”.
A tentative estimate places the price tag of these changes at $3.8 billion annually over the next ten years.
Hornbeck began the discussion on “transformative education” by saying that one of the biggest challenges facing Maryland students is an increase in poverty over the past several decades.
Using information from the Maryland State Department of Education, Hornbeck said that of the 1400 schools in Maryland, 58% have incidences of poverty at 40% or above, meaning that 40% or more of the population is eligible for free and reduced lunches which include 65% of Baltimore County schools.
“The impact the ravages of poverty reach inside of and impact on every nook and cranny of this state,” he said, adding that Kirwan is the right decision because of its “unprecedented recognition of this fact.”
He said Kirwan would address these issues with proposals aimed at creating more resources and opportunities for at-risk and low-income families and students. Other initiatives, such as the creation of Judy Centers, facilities located at or near Title I schools that offer early childhood education and family support programs, are also included.
During his presentation, Hornbeck encouraged to create “Teams of Ten,” small group of localized individuals that meet once a month and send advocacy letters to legislators and decision-makers in support of the Kirwan recommendations. Hornbeck said they currently have 178 teams based in 18 of Maryland’s 24 school districts.
He also said advocates will be lobbying at Annapolis every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday during this year’s General Assembly.
There will be a nearly 10,000 person rally held on March 11.
“If we miss this moment, if history repeats itself, it will be another 13 to 15 years before somebody in Maryland says ‘We ought to take a look comprehensively at public education.’”
The commission will request $325 million for the 2019-20 school year as a downpayment to begin several of the Kirwan recommendations which will include $55 million for community schools, a 3% raise for teachers and increased funding for behavior and mental health support. Next is a mandate to include $750 million in the FY21 state budget as the state share of the $1.5 billion required for that school year.
Much of the delay plaguing the commission is a result of the formula needed to determine how much of this cost will be paid by the state and by local governments.
“The work of the commission is too important to rush through without something so critical as funding formulas that will ensure that the debate in the General Assembly is backed by the best available data” stated the letter given to commission leaders in December of last year.
As a result, full cost estimates will not be available until September of this year in time for the start of the 2020 General Assembly.
The Kirwan Commission was named after commission chair William E. Kirwan, the chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland, and is formally known as The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. It was created in 2016 after the General Assembly passed House Bill 999 and Senate Bill 905 to “provide 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.”