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Maryland panel OKs education funding plan; goes to lawmakers

November 21, 2019 GMT
William Kirwan, who is the chairman of a Maryland commission on education funding, talks to reporters on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Annapolis, Md., after the panel voted on a sweeping package of recommendations to enhance K-12 education in the state. The recommendations, which would increase funding by billions of dollars over the next decade, now go to the Maryland General Assembly, which will take them up in the next legislative session. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
William Kirwan, who is the chairman of a Maryland commission on education funding, talks to reporters on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Annapolis, Md., after the panel voted on a sweeping package of recommendations to enhance K-12 education in the state. The recommendations, which would increase funding by billions of dollars over the next decade, now go to the Maryland General Assembly, which will take them up in the next legislative session. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland commission on education approved a plan on Thursday to update the state’s funding formula to increase teacher pay and implement a wide-ranging proposal to improve schools with billions of dollars in added spending over the next decade.

Supporters are calling it a once-in-a-generation effort that they believe will be transformational for the state’s schools. Opponents, however, point to its huge cost, saying it would lead to big tax increases. The panel voted 19-3 for the wide-ranging recommendations, which now go to the legislature. The proposal is expected to be one of the top issues in the upcoming 90-day session that begins in January.

Under the plan, Maryland would phase in billions of dollars in added spending over the next decade. In 10 years, schools would receive about $4 billion in additional money each year for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The state would contribute about $2.8 billion and local governments would contribute about $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2030.

William Kirwan, a longtime leader in education in the state who chaired the commission, said he believes the plan will be “a game-changer” for children and the future of the state.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good,” Kirwan said.

The former chancellor of the state’s university system emphasized that lawmakers will be able to make changes as they consider the package.

“It can be tweaked as we go along,” Kirwan said. “It should be tweaked. So, I just have every confidence that what we have done is going to make an enormous difference and, if fully implemented, is going to give Maryland for its children and its future a school system as good as any in the world.”

The recommendations cover five major policy areas. They include investing in early childhood education and increasing teacher pay. The others include implementing rigorous curricula, providing more support for struggling schools and creating accountability for underperformance.

Critics, including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, have lauded the goals of the recommendations, but also have voiced serious concerns about the cost.

“While I support the overall Kirwan education policy recommendations, I could not vote for the Kirwan funding formulas as they simply are unaffordable and do not take into account the significant State and Local fiscal impacts,” said Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, an Eastern Shore Republican.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who has been nominated to become the next Senate president when lawmakers convene early next year, invited Hogan to meet with Democrats, who control the General Assembly, to work on the legislation.

“I have every confidence in the governor to join us at the table to do something that is lasting, that is bipartisan, that is sustainable,” Ferguson said.

Hogan, however, refused to support what he described as “billions in crippling state and local tax increases that would be required.” He has dubbed the panel “the Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.”

“Some good ideas have been discussed, but the commission mostly focused on simply increasing spending, rather than real accountability measures and better results for our children,” Hogan said in a statement.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was established by lawmakers more than three years ago.

Maryland last updated the state’s funding formula in 2002.