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Group Proposes Roadmap To $4B State School Spending

Rachel Baye

A state panel has proposed a highly anticipated revamp of the formula Maryland uses to fund public schools. The new formula would facilitate a major overhaul of public education in the state that would eventually increase spending on schools by roughly $4 billion a year.

The formula gradually increases the state’s share of education costs so that in the year 2030, the state would spend an additional $2.8 billion. Local jurisdictions would be on the hook for the remaining $1.2 billion.

The workgroup that announced the new formula on Tuesday is part of the so-called Kirwan Commission, which has spent the last three years developing policies aimed at improving the quality of public schools and closing achievement gaps.

“We came up with a plan that said, this is how the best school systems in the world are beating us — in Singapore and in China and in Germany and Switzerland, in Canada,” said Montgomery County Budget Director Richard Madaleno, a former Democratic state senator who sits on both the full commission and the workgroup. “We must keep up with them, and this is going to be the cost to do that.”

The increases would be phased in over a decade. The amounts allocated for teacher pay and support for English language learners and special education, for example, increase at different rates each year.

Local governments would continue to use the old funding formula for the next year and a half. But after that, their costs go up significantly.

For many counties, covering those costs will require a tax increase, said Maryland Association of Counties Executive Director Michael Sanderson.

“I don’t think you can nip and tuck your way to finding 20, 30, 40% more in school funding,” he said.

Baltimore City would see the most dramatic increase, to roughly double what the city pays now.

During Tuesday’s meeting, former Baltimore state Sen. Joan Carter Conway said the city already struggles to pay its share of school budgets.

“Just given the dynamics of specifically what’s happening in the poorer jurisdictions, especially in Baltimore City, I mean, it’s dreamland to sit here and believe that we will be able to pay it,” she said.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh, a Democrat who represents north Baltimore, said finding the money for the city’s share is far from impossible. After all, she said, the city found roughly $300 million for the police department over the last several years.

“There’s some who believe, and I’m one of them, that $300 million invested up front in children, keeping schools open after school on Saturdays in the summer, providing education and cultural activities for kids might actually help the problem that the police have not yet been able to address,” she said.

McIntosh said she and commission chairman William “Brit” Kirwan are meeting Wednesday with a group of private foundations in Baltimore to pitch them on paying some of the city’s school costs.

How the state is going to pay its share is also unclear.

In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan warned that the Kirwan Commission’s proposal would “impose billions in crippling state and local tax increases on Marylanders.”

State Budget Secretary David Brinkley, who also sits on both the workgroup and the full commission, said some of the money the Kirwan Commission is counting on is also being considered for other uses, including improvements at Pimlico Race Course.

Speaking with reporters after Tuesday’s meeting, he suggested there could be a more efficient way to fund public schools.

“The governor has continually put in bills dealing with education that the legislature repeatedly has shot down,” Brinkley said. “They want to stay on the same model that they’ve had before, and there really needs to be a part, from their perspective, of opening up, saying there might be some other ideas here.”

The full Kirwan Commission is expected to include the proposed formula in recommendations it gives the General Assembly and the governor at the end of the year.

Then the legislature will likely take up the issue when it reconvenes in January.

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