Members and staff of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education pose for a picture on steps inside the House of Delegates in Annapolis on Nov. 21. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Members and staff of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education pose for a picture on steps inside the House of Delegates in Annapolis on Nov. 21. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — With the exception of the Maryland state budget, a major $4 billion Maryland public school proposal approved last week could be the most talked-about topic once the General Assembly convenes Jan. 8.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education’s work that began in 2016 ended Thursday, Nov. 21 with dozens of recommendations to expand pre-kindergarten to include low-income 3-year-old children, pay raises and incorporate college and career readiness standards.

Although 19 of the 22 commission members present voted in favor of the proposal, supporters said the vote represents only one chapter completed.

“This is a groundbreaking plan and a once in a generational opportunity to radically improve our schools in the state,” said House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County), a former teacher who served on the commission and voted for the plan. “It’s something we can’t let pass us by.”

A funding formula would increase state spending with the state contributing $2.8 billion and counties and Baltimore City about $1.2 billion for a total for $4 billion.

The formal plan called The Blueprint to Maryland’s Future seeks to push for full implementation by fiscal year 2030.

The plan remains divided into five policy areas: early childhood education; high-quality and diverse teachers and leaders; college and career readiness pathways; resources to ensure all students are successful; and governance and accountability.

But three commissioners — state David Brinkley, budget secretary for Gov. Larry Hogan, state Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico counties) and Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jack Wilson — voted against the proposal due to concerns about how some counties would find money to support the new initiatives.

“If we’re going to put more revenues into these schools and facilities, that it not be just for pay raises. That we’ll actually prepare students,” Brinkley said.

Carozza, who voted in favor of the overall Blueprint legislation during this year’s session, summarized a fight this month at a local high school in Salisbury where three staff members received injuries after breaking up the altercation.

“When we talk about policy recommendations, we also have to talk about classroom management and school environment,” she said. “It is directly tied to student performance.”

The proposal does offer an annual budget of $1.75 million starting at next fiscal year to create an oversight board and staff.

The responsibilities would include track and report progress of 10th grade students on college and career readiness; assess student achievement on career and technical education; and monitor teacher preparation programs and student outcomes.

Other educational items slated for funding:

• Counselors and mental health providers in schools with a high concentration of poverty.

• Increase state aid for special education starting in fiscal year 2022 by 45 percent.

• Administer a racially and culturally unbiased assessment to all kindergarten students to detect any learning deficiencies.

A report presented in August highlights one reason why the majority of commissioners say public education must change in Maryland.

Danielle Farrie, research director with the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey, highlighted how states such as New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Delaware all received an “A” for funding levels. Maryland and New Hampshire garnered a “B” on the report. However, Maryland scored a “D” along with Virginia for distribution of money.

Farrie, used the latest economic data from 2016 to show Maryland’s poorer school districts received $800 fewer than wealthier districts.

Although commission members said they weren’t responsible for how to identify funding sources, some Democratic lawmakers and supporters said the programs could be funded with growth in state revenues and new money from internet sales tax, sports gambling and recreational marijuana.

“The economy will grow in the next 10 years,” William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the former University of Maryland System chancellor who chaired the commission also named after him, said after the vote. “[Education plan] sounds like a huge number … we educate people a lot better. We won’t have to spend as much on public safety. Our prison populations are going to go down.”

Hogan, who derisively nicknamed the group the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission,” said in a statement the proposal didn’t offer how to pay for the recommendations and would cost more than $30 billion.

“Local leaders agree with me — they will not support the billions in crippling state and local tax increases that would be required,” Hogan said in a statement. “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.”

State Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who fellow Democrats in his chamber nominated to become the next Senate president in January, had a message for Hogan.

“I want to invite Gov. Hogan and his administration to meet with us, the General Assembly, to ensure that they don’t miss out on this once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Ferguson said. “I have every confidence in the governor to join us at the table to do something that is lasting, that’s bipartisan, that is sustainable.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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