But the landmark proposal known as Kirwan, which could funnel as much as $3.8 billion a year into public schools, is virtually unknown: 77 percent of residents say they have heard “nothing at all” about it. Of the minority who have heard of Kirwan, roughly a third cannot identify its purpose.
The findings, believed to be the first public polling about Kirwan, could fuel a race between advocates and opponents to define public opinion on the education overhaul.
The proposal represents roughly a 22 percent boost in school spending. It would attempt to end widespread disparities and lackluster achievement that advocates say are unjust and put the state at a competitive disadvantage.
While the Democrats who control the state legislature say implementing the plan is a top priority, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has derided it as “half-baked” and said it would be far too expensive.
The Washington Post reported last week that Hogan has undertaken a $2 million fundraising push, using a super PAC and a related nonprofit that can accept unlimited donations, to advance his agenda — including rousing opposition to higher taxes to pay for Kirwan-related initiatives.
The governor has called Kirwan well-meaning but questioned whether increased spending would fix problems in Maryland schools.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Goucher Poll, said the results show there is “baked-in” support to improve schools in Maryland with higher taxes, but there’s no evidence that residents are convinced the wide-ranging Kirwan proposal would fix schools or is worth the estimated price tag.
“It’s yet to be defined to the public,” Kromer said. “Although it’s extensive, it’s been developed by experts and meticulously researched, people just aren’t aware of what it is.”
The plan is named for William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the former University of Maryland System president who chaired the advisory group that spent years developing it. It proposes free prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds, higher teacher pay and tougher teacher training, more resources for poor and special-needs students, stricter accountability standards for school districts and more career and technology training for students.
If implemented, the Kirwan proposals would be the biggest overhaul to public schools in two decades. How to pay for them is expected to dominate debate when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Lawmakers have floated legalizing and taxing marijuana for recreational purposes as one way to generate additional revenue.
Meanwhile, optimism about the state’s future is at the lowest point since Hogan took office in January 2015, the poll found, with 46 percent saying Maryland is heading in the right direction. That’s a 13-point drop from February.
Kromer said the reason for the drop was unclear. Residents remain optimistic about the economy and its future, and Hogan’s overall popularity remains high, with 64 percent of residents approving of the job he’s doing.
The poll of 763 Maryland adults was conducted from Sept. 13 to 18 by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. Its margin of error is 3.6 percentage points.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.