The panel overwhelmingly voted to recommend the new formula to the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, which plans to make a final recommendation to the General Assembly on how much state and local governments should spend to improve public education and make funding more equitable.
Local government officials have been waiting anxiously for months to learn how much they would be required to spend under the new formula, which would be phased in over the decade.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R), who represented county governments on the education panel, abstained from the vote Tuesday, expressing skepticism about how counties would meet the financial requirement.
Michael Sanderson, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said, “I don’t think you can nip and tuck your way in finding 20, 30 percent more in school funding.”
While the commission — also known as the Kirwan Commission, after its leader, former University System of Maryland president William E. “Brit” Kirwan — settled on the numbers, it did not address how to pay for the increases. That discussion, which will be a focus of the 2020 legislative session, is expected to shape up as a major battle within the Democratic-majority General Assembly, and between Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and local lawmakers.
Hogan has already started pushing back, lashing out against the panel on social media, labeling it the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission” and launching a fundraising effort to oppose the funding plan.
The governor called the $4 billion price tag a “pie-in-the-sky proposal.”
“I have tremendous respect for Dr. Kirwan and have supported many of his well-meaning recommendations, some of which can be phased in over the next several years,” Hogan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Kirwan Tax Hike Commission is hellbent on spending billions more than we can afford, and legislators are refusing to come clean about where the money is going to come from. 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.”
Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), a member of the panel, said that “the money is there,” jurisdictions just have to make education a top priority when creating their budgets.
Under the proposal, Prince George’s County would see a 38 percent jump in its education costs, and Montgomery County would experience a 14 percent increase. The hardest-hit jurisdictions would be Kent County, which would go from spending $21 million a year to nearly $30 million, a 41 percent jump; and Baltimore City, which would double its spending from $331 million to $662 million. Others, which have paid more in past years, would see modest increases: for example, Baltimore County at 9 percent and Frederick County at 2 percent.
Among other things, the money would be used for pre-K expansion, teacher raises, behavioral health, special education, technology and grants for schools with high concentrations of students from low-income families.
“This is the cost of quality,” said Montgomery County Budget Director Richard S. Madaleno, a former state senator and a member of the Kirwan Commission, adding that state and local governments cannot afford to not increase investments in education.
Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), a member of the panel who supports the funding plan, noted that 1 out of 4 high school graduates earn a postsecondary degree in Maryland, while 2 out of 3 jobs in the state require a postsecondary degree.
“Over the next 10 years, we are not talking about an education crisis, we are talking about an economic calamity,” he said. “This is the cost of the status quo.”