The 2020 Session of the Maryland General Assembly is just around the corner, beginning in January. Every year legislators, including myself, travel down to Annapolis for a 90-day session where we tackle issues from balancing the state budget, to criminal justice to health care policy.
The biggest issue on the horizon is how policy makers will handle recommendations from the Kirwin Commission, which was focused on how to properly fund and improve K-12 public education in Maryland over the next decade. There have been a number of policy changes that have come from the Kirwin Commission, some of which have been implemented already with existing funds that were available. However, the major funding recommendations have now come down – and the cost is fairly staggering, nearly $4 Billion more over the next 10 years, on top of the near $6 Billion we spend annually already.
Carroll County would come out mostly in the “winner” column, with a 35% increase in State funding, and a zero % increase required in our local share. That’s because Carroll County has already been funding more than the new law would require. While that sounds great, what we may well find is that the new law will now dictate how we have to spend those monies, and those ways may potentially undermine our past choices and priorities.
Additionally - although Carroll County could come out more on the 'winners' side in the form of increased State funding to our county, this unprecedented State increase is not "free" money. Every increase is paid for by higher State taxes we all must pay. In 2002, the Thornton Commission increased education spending by an unprecedented 113%. At the end of Thornton’s phase-in, however, we discovered, that not only had we not increased the quality of our education, by some measurements areas of the state had actually slipped further back.
In Carroll County, we have put the focus on outcomes for students, and we have proved it by building an education system that has outperformed. At the state level, decision-makers need to look at what successful local jurisdictions are doing rather than trying to spend more on failed policies of the past. At the core of my belief about education is that dollars should be focused in the classroom on teaching our students, hiring and retaining quality teachers at good salaries and providing services that promote academic achievement and career readiness. There are Kirwin policy recommendations that are very good in my opinion. However - we need state legislators and activist groups – including education establishment groups spending millions promoting an “all-or-nothing” approach to Kirwin – to embrace a realistic, compromise path to accomplishing these goals.
It's an honor to serve as your representative in the State Senate. I’ll do my best to keep people informed as this process moves forward and I welcome your input.
The writer is a State Senator representing District 5