Polls show Marylanders recognize the need to improve the state’s K-12 schools and understand it will cost more, because many of our county systems are chronically underfunded. A working group of the Kirwan commission that has put together school improvement plans, as this Maryland Matters article outlines, is coming down to crunch time on the costs – particularly to local governments. So it’s freak-out time for certain tax-averse county councils that are dominated by business interests rather than the needs of working families. Marylanders who know the stakes here will need to organize and tell those councils that they can bite the bullet and fund real school improvement. Or the elected officials can expect strong and increasingly well-organized grassroots efforts to return them to private life.
Kirwan Funding Group Recommendation Expected This Week
The workgroup meets Tuesday in Annapolis – and the agenda for the panel’s final meeting is expected to contain important items from how to increase equity in the proposed funding formula to the rate at which proposed reforms will be funding over the course of the next decade.
Here’s a look at some of what The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula Workgroup has left to do:
The members of the workgroup got their first look last week at what fiscal effect the proposed new formula might have county by county.
The new funding formula aims to increase state funding for certain populations of school children, including those who receive special education and those who live in poverty.
When the state funding in those areas increase, it also increases the local obligations. That means that some counties with high populations of students in poverty would have to dramatically increase local education spending – sometimes beyond what’s seemingly possible.
Prince George’s County and the city of Baltimore in particular would have to increase funding substantially to catch current appropriations up to the amount demanded by the new proposed formula. At full phase-in, Baltimore City would have to pay 52.8 percent, or $313.6 million, more into local schools; Prince George’s County would be on the hook for a 29.5 percent, or $17.7 million, increase.
But some counties are already paying more than would be demanded by the new formulas, including Howard County, which is already allocating $159.2 million more to schools than the formula would require. Howard County is Maryland’s wealthiest jurisdiction and has the highest-performing schools.
Concentration of poverty
The workgroup is considering whether to make new Concentration of Poverty Grants a fully state-funded program, which could even out the local funding requirements for higher- and lower-wealth jurisdictions.
The grants, which have been approved by legislation passed by the General Assembly, create school-based health and social services positions and direct additional funding to schools with high numbers of children living in poverty.
If, for example, the state covered the entire cost of the concentration of poverty grants, Baltimore would get an additional $64 million from the state, and the required local appropriation would decrease by that amount.
Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) supports having the state cover the concentration of poverty grants to try to equalize wealth in the state.
“There’s no doubt, I believe, that the city has more room to contribute more – $313 million is definitely an undoable number,” Ferguson said, even over the course of a decade.
Several other committee members agreed last week, but final calculations for the recommendation may still be tweaked.
Maintenance of effort
The workgroup could also decide whether to make changes to how much counties are required to spend on education funding each year.
Under current law, school systems must have a continual “maintenance of effort” for school funding, which basically drives spending incrementally higher each year.
Currently, that calculation requires counties to cover the local share of the foundation funding formula, but not for specialized programs such as special education.
The workgroup wants to require maintenance of effort for all of the newly proposed programs, including targeted funding for special education, English learners and increases in teacher salaries and benefits.
On Tuesday, the workgroup has requested more information for different ways to implement the new maintenance of effort calculation.
A phase-in plan
All the changes to the education funding formulas are being made to pay for a decade of education reforms recommended by the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.
The commission’s recommendations include raising academic standards to match those in the top-performing countries, creating new policies to attract highly qualified teachers, building career and technical education programs, and providing additional resources to low-income and special needs children.
One issue with the decade of education reform proposed by the Kirwan Commission is that changes were front-loaded, requiring extra billions to by paid by state and county education budgets in less than five years.
The workgroup is looking at a more even phase-in for the Kirwan Commission recommendations.
One preliminary plan included increasing funding by about 5 percent each year until the total cost would be funded in 2030. However, it’s unclear if the new programs could be rolled out at the same rate, so some changes may be necessary and increased funding may have to ebb and flow based on policy recommendations.
William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the commission and funding workgroup chairman, said last week that he agreed a smoother fiscal rollout is worth addressing. While doing so could cause delays in some of the proposed reforms, it would also allow counties and the state to undertake more deliberate planning, commission members said.
Once the workgroup votes on a proposed funding formula, it will head to the Kirwan Commission for consideration.
The full commission will spend the fall reviewing the proposal, and is expected to make a recommendation to the General Assembly before the legislative session starts in January.
The workgroup meets Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. in the House of Delegates building.