Alvin Thornton (right), chair of the Prince George's County school board, discusses part of the recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education plan at Laurel Public Library on Dec. 7. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Alvin Thornton (right), chair of the Prince George's County school board, discusses part of the recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education plan at Laurel Public Library on Dec. 7. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Ashley Montgomery says state money should provide school uniforms for students from low-income families and underserved communities.

Malvery Smith stresses that money to renovate older schools would improve student achievement.

Smith and Montgomery are not only Prince George’s County residents, but public school teachers in the county school system who presented two suggestions at a community meeting Saturday, Dec. 7 at Laurel Public Library.

“Some rooms are cold. Some rooms are hot,” said Smith, a fifth-grade teacher at Oaklands Elementary in Laurel. “We have [portable classrooms] for music, art and P.E. outside. Our school is more than 50 years old. Our children need adequate space for learning.”

The discussion labeled a “community conversation” focused on the ongoing $4 billion statewide education proposal from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission named after former University of Maryland System Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan.

The plan that seeks to revamp the state’s public education structure lays out dozens of recommendations, including expansion of pre-kindergarten to include low-income 3-year-old children, teacher salary increases and incorporation of college- and career-readiness standards.

A funding formula would increase 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 for full implementation by fiscal year 2030.

Saturday’s talk marked the second of three organized by County Vice Chair Calvin Hawkins (D-At-Large) with one more scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 12 at the Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Complex in Fort Washington.

Hawkins said the idea came after he met with Del. Alonzo Washington (D-District 22) of Greenbelt, who served on the commission that voted 19-3 to recommend state lawmakers approve the plan when they convene Jan. 8 in Annapolis for the annual 90-day session.

“I have to do my part not so much with all the elected officials, but get the community involved so they understand the investment we may have to make on this,” Hawkins said.

Alvin Thornton, Prince George’s school board chair, served on the work group to organize a proposed funding formula for the education plan and summarized the commission’s work with some historical context. He said “educational justice” began with the late Baltimore native Thurgood Marshall, who achieved victory as a civil rights lawyer in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case to end segregation in public schools.

In 2002, Thornton led a commission named after him to create a funding formula for the constitutional requirement every child receive a quality education.

Thornton admitted Saturday some of the recommendations not achieved at that time can be fulfilled through the Kirwan Commission, such as expansion early childhood education.

Although there’s been plenty of public support, some jurisdictions would be asked to pay more.

Prince George’s taxpayers would need to chip in almost $361 million, a 38 percent increase, by 2030, the highest amount proposed in the state. That’s because the majority-Black jurisdiction is among the most-aided by the state regarding education.

“There are ways that you can reduce the cost if you have to, but cost should not be the deciding factor,” Thornton said. “We must turn to each other on behalf of our children. Share our wealth with them.”

Meanwhile, those who attended support the commission recommendations, but Montgomery wants to ensure certain money get used for other means such as “more appetizing meals.”

“You can clearly tell [students are] getting frozen food. It’s not appetizing and therefore, kids won’t eat it,” said Montgomery, a business entrepreneurship teacher at Oxon Hill High School who also runs a nonprofit called Mentoring Through Athletics, which provides school uniforms and conducts other programs for students throughout the county. “I think [the commission recommendations] are great, but if we can’t meet children right where they are, there will always be a deficit.”

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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