Members of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission, convene Sept. 21 in Annapolis to discuss ways to improve the Maryland education system. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Members of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission, convene Sept. 21 in Annapolis to discuss ways to improve the Maryland education system. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — The 25-member group tasked to prescribe remedies and help boost the Maryland educational system pushed slightly closer to a final document before the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes in January.

The 25-member Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education presented Friday an update of recommendations on early childhood education, teacher preparedness and retention, college and career readiness and resources for at-risk students.

The longest discussion inside the House of Delegates building in Annapolis dealt specifically with the possible expansion of pre-kindergarten at no cost for low-income 3-year-old children and all 4-year-old children.

The updated changes included allowing a private service provider who accepts public money to eschew any state regulations “that conflicts with its religious or more teachings.” However, that entity may not discriminate against a student’s parent or guardian based on “race, color, disability, national origin or sexual orientation.”

The state would require all early childhood teachers receive training on cultural competency and “restorative practices.”

“It’s about building more opportunities for children before they enter kindergarten,” said Craig Rice, a Montgomery County councilman who chairs the early childhood workgroup.

David Brinkley, a commission member and budget secretary for Gov. Larry Hogan, said certain state incentives may not entice some private businesses to enroll all students.

“Sometimes there becomes a thought process and make the world subscribe to a certain standard,” he said. “They might still be able to function, but they cannot choose some of the students that we’re targeting here because this is all hinged on state money.”

The grown, also known as the Kirwan Commission, named after former University of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, was established in 2016 to study and find adequate funding to improve the school system.

Earlier this year, the group released a proposed document showing that the cost could reach nearly $3 billion. Education advocates say that is the current amount schools are underfunded annually.

The commission received correspondence from several local school systems and nonprofit organizations to express concerns about some of the proposals.

Nancy Shapiro, associate vice chancellor for the University of Maryland system, spoke on behalf of the chancellor, Robert Caret, a member of the commission, who didn’t attend Friday’s nearly all-day session.

According to the Sept. 14 email, Caret expressed concern about the creation of a sub-cabinet to improve the state’s career and technical education comprised of an executive director and staff.

“It would add layers of bureaucracy and cost to an already burdened public education system, potentially devolve into more turf wards and tangled policy contexts,” he said. “It would be expensive, murky and potentially counterproductive to our ultimate goal of college and career readiness.”

To help underprivileged students, Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Brookins Santelises also wrote a letter dated Sept. 14 in which the commission previously proposed each school receive about $236,780 for a percentage of students eligible for free or reduce meals. Some of the money could be used to hire a community schools coordinator and health practitioner.

An additional $2,400 would be designated for each student toward transportation and other services.

“City schools is alarmed by these amounts, as they are woefully inadequate of what is needed to ensure the success of our most vulnerable students,” Santelises said in the letter, which outlined 19 positions, programs and services needed to “fund schools with concentrations of poverty.”

In regard to teachers, there’s a proposal to increase salaries by 10 percent over the next three years to compete with New Jersey and Massachusetts, the two states mentioned in a preliminary report this year.

Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-District 22), a member of the commission who represents Prince George’s County, asked about a chart that outlines the average salaries of 14 other occupations such as accountants and auditors, occupation therapists and registered nurses.

Compared with the education professions that averaged out to $64,600, the other jobs’ average salary came to $80,461.

“I want to ensure our teachers are paid adequately and … our teachers have ample time to have planning sessions during the day and have time for professional development,” Washington said after the first three-hour session. “These recommendations will be in line for 15 to 20 years, so it’s best we take our time to get it right. However, I’m hopeful we get something soon.”

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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