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Legislative Leaders Propose Changes For Schools, But Not How to Pay For Them

Rachel Baye

Legislators in Annapolis will have their first chance to weigh in on recommendations by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — better known as the "Kirwan Commission" — which is studying ways to improve K-12 education in Maryland. A bill reflecting many of those recommendations is to go before a Senate committee Wednesday afternoon.

The wide-ranging bill expands full-day prekindergarten, establishes programs to offer extra support for students who are struggling and creates new academic standards, among other things. For teachers, it expands professional development opportunities and raises salaries. In schools with high concentrations of students from low-income households, it pays for transportation to and from school; dental, vision and other health services; and extended learning programs after school, on weekends and during summers. And it lays out accountability measures to ensure that local school systems are complying with the new policies.

And the legislation comes with a $325 million price tag. That covers the costs associated with the first year in the Kirwan Commission’s proposed 10-year plan.

At a press conference Tuesday, Senate President Mike Miller called it “the most important bill” of the session.

Former University Systems of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, the chair of the commission, said the costs of not making these changes are high.

“At present, fewer than 40 percent of high school seniors will graduate deemed ‘college and career ready,’ and by our current standards, ‘college and career ready’ means you can read at the 10th grade [level] and you can pass an Algebra I test,” Kirwan said. “We can and we must do better in Maryland.”

The Kirwan Commission has not recommended and legislators have not identified a way to pay for future years of the proposed changes. The commission plans to develop a new funding formula over the coming summer.

But House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh, a member of the Kirwan Commission, said the legislature will be able to find the $325 million for the first year within the budget Gov. Larry Hogan proposed for fiscal 2020 without raising any taxes.

“We will be reviewing the proposed legislation closely as it goes through the legislative process,” Shareese Churchill, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said in a statement. She said the governor “is open to additional investments in K-12 education, but strongly believes that any investments must be accompanied by strong accountability requirements.”

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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