Preschool Kirwan

Hillcrest Elementary School preschool students Jennifer Clemente Ramirez and Jocelyn Cruz Benitez work on an art project last week in their classroom.

On a sunny Monday morning, more than 100 people — many of them clad in blue shirts with “Our Kids Can’t Wait” written on them — gathered at College Avenue and St. John’s Street in Annapolis, outside the south side of the House of Delegates Office Building.

They included infants, schoolchildren and older adults.

Melanie Andrew, a senior at Catoctin High School, attended the rally to show her support of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a 10-year plan to revamp Maryland’s public schools. That plan has been one of the main focuses of this year’s General Assembly, as lawmakers are debating its policies and how to fund a plan that could cost up to $3.8 billion per fiscal year, depending on what might ultimately be passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

The bill — also known as the Kirwan bill and named for Brit Kirwan, the chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland — has five core tenets:

  • Improving access to early childhood education.
  • Training, recruiting and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers/leaders.
  • Expanding college and career readiness programs for high school students, not only for higher education, but in the trades.
  • Increasing resources for special education, kids who live in poverty and English as a second language students.
  • Establishing accountability mechanisms to make sure goals are implemented.

More concretely, those tenets include goals such as raising teacher pay, instituting universal prekindergarten, and increasing teacher training and alternative student career paths.

Andrew’s mother teaches in Frederick County Public Schools, and often works with special-needs students — another area the Kirwan bill could address. It’s also one she personally experienced, as she had speech impediments and social anxiety growing up and attending New Midway/Woodsboro Elementary School.

“I had the resources at my school, thankfully, to get over my speech impediment and help me kind of get more out there,” Andrew said after the rally. “And I know schools kind of don’t have that [not only] in even Frederick County, but just across the state of Maryland.”

FCPS staff, school board keep close eye on Kirwan
Examining the funding questions of the Kirwan plan
Governor blasts Democrats' proposed sales tax for Kirwan

The Kirwan proposal’s impact on special education would help students with disabilities such as autism or Down syndrome live more independently, she added.

Leadership split

For the rest of the General Assembly session, lawmakers in both the House of Delegates and Senate will debate not only how to pay for Kirwan, but also the merits of the 172-page bill. That bill was, in part, the product of the Kirwan Commission, a body that spent three years drafting recommendations to revamp the state’s education system.

That bill, which lays out much of the policy of Kirwan, is one half of the puzzle. Lawmakers introduced a proposal on Thursday that would generate $2.6 billion in sales tax revenue annually, which would help pay for many of the initiatives in Kirwan.

Earlier this month, Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert), sitting at his desk in the Senate chamber, said the reason he came back to serve this year was to assist in passing some version of Kirwan.

He understands there are challenges, but said there needs to be buy-in from everybody — including counties and other local jurisdictions — in order for the proposal to work.

Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate are optimistic about the bill’s goals, including Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s). Pinsky, chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said it’s vital that the entire bill is executed.

“You can have great teachers, but if you don’t change your curriculum, it’s probably not going to matter,” said Pinsky, who sat on the Kirwan Commission. “If you don’t have pre-K, the tutoring in second grade probably is not going to matter a lot. If you don’t have accountability, it’s not going to matter.”

But some are not so optimistic. House Minority Leader Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) said the plan, which looked at education models around the globe including Massachusetts — a top state nationwide for education — does not do enough to address the gap in quality schools in Maryland.

The Kirwan plan addresses revamping and improving many aspects of K-12 education statewide, but Kipke and other Republicans believe it doesn’t do enough to close the gap between the state’s best and worst schools, an idea they feel should be emphasized more.

J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore and Harford), the Senate minority leader, said more needs to be done toward student discipline, because without that, all the other goals in the proposal are difficult to execute.

More needs to be done to allow teachers to succeed in the classroom, he added.

“Dealing with kids, disruptive kids, there’s not much in there that deals with that,” Jennings said. “That is a big issue. That’s what we hear from teachers every day, is the classroom is no longer a teaching environment, and that’s why we need to focus on that in this bill.”

Local support, but funding questioned

Several people in the Frederick County delegation and county leadership are mostly optimistic about what the bill does.

Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll), the Frederick County delegation chair, pointed right away to teacher pay, giving a common scenario for those who live in Frederick County.

“I know that Frederick County, we have a lot of folks that actually commute to Montgomery County to be a teacher because it pays better and then they come back and they live in Frederick County, so Kirwan, it attempts to address some of those issues,” Pippy said.

Other local Republicans, including Del. Dan Cox, also support raising teacher pay. But he, like others in his party, shared concerns about other jurisdictions and whether money from the bill is making its way to the classroom instead of going toward administrative costs.

There’s also another issue, he said: paying for one of the core tenants of the plan. Cox said pre-K is beneficial, but it can be costly.

“Three-year-old pre-K is very expensive, that’s like day care for everybody, that’s got a high price tag,” Cox said. “So I think some of those more expensive things … they may end up altering.”

Still, Cox, Pippy and others are supportive of the plan’s overall mission. And Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick), vice chair of the delegation, said despite the plan’s high cost, there is an often-overlooked benefit.

If Maryland’s citizens are better-educated, he said, then they will obtain higher-level degrees. With higher degrees, those people find better paying jobs. And better paying jobs lead to more tax revenue for both localities and the state.

And that means, in the long run, the bill will pay for itself, Young said.

Frederick County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) also believes the plan addresses several areas that would benefit the county. But she’s currently in a wait-and-see mode to see how the plan is funded, how much counties owe versus the state and what goals and initiatives are passed into law.

But she was concerned about pre-K expansion, given the current capacity in Frederick County Public Schools.

“The problem that we have in Frederick County is if you mandate pre-K, we don’t have the facility space within our buildings,” Keegan-Ayer said.

More debate; changes to come

Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, plays an important role in determining how Kirwan is funded.

And sitting at her desk in the second row of seats in the House of Delegates chamber earlier this month, she made certain to point out one idea: The legislation, if passed, should be implemented in phases.

Some areas, such as universal pre-K, will be funded and started in the later years of the 10-year cycle. But others, like putting funds in poverty-ridden areas and special education programs, can happen more quickly.

“We’re going to have all of those in the bill once it comes out, I don’t see any one of those tenants dropping out of the bill,” McIntosh said.

Joy Schaefer, a former Frederick County Board of Education member who sat on the Kirwan Commission, is following the Kirwan proposal closely.

Schaefer said the core tenets of the bill have stayed the same, but there are some logistical concerns on certain funding aspects of the proposal, including what revenue streams the county can draw from.

“I just think some of the language needs clarification because the phase-in for the local [funding] share is not clear, some of the revenue that counties have to generate is also not clear,” said Schaefer, who was speaking as a commission member, not Frederick County’s director of government affairs and public policy.

Much of Kirwan’s policies will be debated in the coming weeks. It’s likely the bills dropped as Senate Bill 1000 and House Bill 1300 will look substantially different once they reach a final vote.

“There are things we are going to have to adjust,” Senate President Bill Ferguson told four committees in a joint bill hearing earlier this month. “The key component of this legislation, unlike any other reform effort that has happened across this country, is it is addressing every single part of the spectrum, from the 2-year-old through [high school] graduation. This is what real education reform looks like.”

Senate President Emeritus Miller, who spent more than three decades as Ferguson’s predecessor, summarized the bill’s possible impact in grand terms.

“If it’s funded, it would be worldwide news, quite frankly,” he said. “It would be the best program of any state in the union.”

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel.

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(14) comments

MD1756

The benefits of the Kirwan plan aren't likely worth the costs. Why haven't the legislators proposed ending the tax subsidy parents get for having children? It is simply discrimination against people with no children, forcing them to pay more taxes for education than the parents do. At the very least eliminate the income tax deductions/credits parents get for their children so they pay at least the same income taxes as those who don't have children and don't impose a significant burden on state and local governments and don't add to the problems of climate change and other problems caused by a growing human population. Teacher's pensions are already underfunded (if you use realistic assumptions about future returns on investment, etc.) so whay add to it without figuring how to pay for it. The legislators have their priorities screwed up. As a person with no children, I want the legislators to properly fund our infrastructure. I want them to provide more funding for addressing environmental issues. I want the parents to start paying more for things that are currently covered by school budgets but aren't really necessary to meet the "...a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools" requirement of Maryland's constitution. The Kirwan plan also pushes for a larger role by the state in raising children by pushing for all day pre-k thus taking time away from when parents should be raising their children particularly in the early years. It basically amounts to publicly funded dare care fr children and those of us with no children shouldn't have to pick up the added costs especially since the benefits are questionable compared to the costs and compared to making parents spend more time with their children (and if they don't have the time to spend with their children then they shouldn't have them). Anyone who wants to complain about my position should state why they believe people without children should pay more in taxes than those with children or else keep your comments to yourself.

eak1969123

Initially the new lottery was going to fully fund education. Then adding other lottery games was going to fix education. This was followed by 42 new or increased taxes during the O'Malley era that was the answer. Next we were told casino gambling was the answer. Then came the Pappas commission "maintenance of effort" that brought a a law that says education funding can never be reduced. That was supposed to be a permanent fix to funding education.

There are 13,500 school systems in the U.S. Four Maryland systems; Baltimore City, Howard County, Montgomery County and Prince Georges County have a cost per student that places them in the top ten of the 13,500 school systems nationally. To quote the Kirwin report "Maryland schools perform at a mediocre level in a country that performs at a mediocre level internationally."

"But that is not the only troubling fact that Commissioners learned." "Maryland has glaring gaps in student achievement....fewer than 40% of students are graduating from high school truly college and career ready."

Given this record of a high level of spending for mediocre results, it is not likely the latest education fix will produce any meaningful results. It will however make it less desirable to live in or operate a business in Maryland.

Aslan19

"And Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick), vice chair of the delegation, said despite the plan’s high cost, there is an often-overlooked benefit.

If Maryland’s citizens are better-educated, he said, then they will obtain higher-level degrees. With higher degrees, those people find better paying jobs."

This quote shows the myopic and failed thinking of a lot of people. The idea that it is necessary to have an advanced degree in order to have a well paying job is sheer stupidity. I just paid 650.00 for a repair to my HVAC system. The repair took about 3 hours. Think about that hourly rate.

KAYoho

For the first time, we are really looking at not only college, but career-readiness as well. My husband has been an electrician for 45 years. I don't know anyone involved in this process that doesn't support the trades and other career-readiness programs such as computer program certifications.

fnpreader123

Mandatory Pre-K is socialist garbage. Leave it up to the parents, I had one of my kids do it and not the other, because they are different kids and had different maturity levels.

FrederickFan

Where is the quote from County Executive Jan Gardner? No one in history has actually funded more for Frederick County schools. She has been testifying in Annapolis relentlessly for improved State support for schools. And no one, absolutely no one will be more important for Frederick County schools over the next three years.

mr_twist27

Keep driving taxes up and there will be no one left here to pay them. It's already expensive to live in Maryland, but to add taxes onto service related purchases will undoubtedly drive more people out of the state to live.

Frayou

Seems like every ten years or so a group of college professors get together financed by a State or Federal grant to study why previous educational systems have failed and creating the new revolutionary educational system to solve them. Then it takes another 10 years to find out the new system didn’t work after raising taxes, building new schools, and spending. How about getting back to basics, reading, writing, arithmetic, and discipline which begins at Home rather than left with burdening the teachers.

Frayou

I’ll never forget years ago when my daughter was in 5th grade and was having problems with her math homework. She was having problems with a simple division problem dividing 5 into 25. I attempted to explain to here the answer was as simple as 5 x 5 = 25. Well, didn’t understand the association, because no one taught her. This blew my mind at the time as this was basic information at one time.

niceund

This will absolutely NOT work. It's the worst plan the Democrats have put forward. Marylanders are already bleeding money. Throwing more money at a problem doesn't fix it. Politicians should have nothing to do with the school system. Getting back to the basics is the only cure. Reduce top heavy administrative systems, dedicated teachers who have some authority and don't push their political agendas, supportive parents who are actually involved in their children's lives, common sense curriculums and a school calendar where students are not given every other day off. You don't need a calculator, a complex series of steps and backwards addition to get the answer to 4 + 3.

Frayou

Agree. Cut out the progressive social engineering to include granting excused absences so students can travel to DC to protest. Get back to basics.

wran

I believe the main factor in a student's learning is their own motivation to learn and do well. It comes from within themselves. It is not something that can be forced on them with money.

MD1756

Don't forget that it also depends on parental involvement. We don't need to be taxed to get parents to spend more time with their children and teach them and be good role models for them instead of letting the government do more and more of the work at the added expense of those with no children.

llrowse

👍👍👍👍 Yes. It’s time to stop the dog and pony show, and no longer allow blame to be assigned to teachers, or the education system, for lack of students improvement. Make accommodations for students who are learning disabled, for everyone else, start paddling your canoe.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. No vulgar, racist, sexist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, not personal attacks or ad hominem criticisms.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Be civil. Don't threaten. Don't lie. Don't bait. Don't degrade others.
No trolling. Stay on topic.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
No deceptive names. Apparently misleading usernames are not allowed.
Say it once. No repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link for abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Already a member?

Login Now
Click Here!

Currently a News-Post subscriber?

Activate your membership at no additional charge.
Click Here!

Need more information?

Learn about the benefits of membership.
Click Here!

Ready to join?

Choose the membership plan that fits your needs.
Click Here!