Kirwan

Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan discusses the Kirwan Commission’s progress and recommendations during a forum Tuesday evening.

(Oct. 11, 2019) The local edition of Chairman Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan’s pitch for state education reform continued Tuesday evening during a forum at Wor-Wic Community College. 

The Kirwan Commission, more formally known as the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, is tasked with allocating billions of dollars to revamp the education system in Maryland. 

The Kirwan Commission’s funding formula workgroup has been meeting for the past several months. The group is expected to share the county-by-county numbers and recommendations during an Oct. 15 meeting.

“We absolutely will have [them],” Kirwan said. 

Worcester County Public Schools Superintendent Lou Taylor said after the forum that while he liked what Kirwan said, he’s reserving judgment until the county-by-county breakdowns are released.

“Because of the state’s current funding formula, our county and our school system receive only a nominal level of funding from the state, despite the over 42 percent of students’ families living under the poverty line,” Taylor said. “Until we have a clearer picture from the state on how funding for the commission will be allocated, I will remain concerned about how these findings will impact our school system.”

Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino agreed.

“So until that’s made public, until we’ve had an opportunity to crunch the numbers on the county level, it’s very difficult to have an opinion that we should be for this,” said Bertino, who also attended the forum.

Worcester County receives less state funding than most other counties because it has one of the largest property tax bases per capita in the state.

When asked about how the agency might address the lack of adequate state funding in Worcester County despite the area’s wealth disparity, Kirwan said it’s important for children to be supported.

“The commission’s been very alarmed at the inequity in funding,” Kirwan said.

The excellence in education legislation that resulted in the Kirwan Commission includes proposals for free preschool for 3-and-4-year-olds living at 300 percent below the property level, higher salaries for teachers, college and career readiness standards, vocational education, and allocated funding for counties, according to a February 2019 interim report.

When asked about taking an “all or nothing approach” to implementing these guidelines, Kirwan said that would be ideal. 

“Let’s suppose we did all this stuff on preschool, but we don’t do anything about making teaching a high-status profession,” Kirwan said.  He added later, “So, OK, more kids come to kindergarten ready to learn, but they don’t have the enriched academic environment once they get to the school.

 “We’re making a set of policy recommendations, the [Maryland] General Assembly will, in its own wisdom, I am confident make some adjustments in what we said, but I hope to goodness that the principles and the full package are kept together,” Kirwan said.

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38), a member of the Kirwan Commission, sees it differently.

“I do not accept the all-or-nothing approach to the Kirwan recommendations,” Carozza told Ocean City Today. “I believe that my constituents will hold the members of the commission and their elected officials accountable on prioritization and what is affordable.

“The question is how do we do that in a way we can afford it over what timeframe?” Carozza said.

Kirwan did allow that members of the commission might need to “take a pause” and reassess the priorities depending on the economic climate. 

The package is expected to cost $3.8 billion and would be phased in over a 10-year period. 

The commission has 25 members, with no representatives of the Eastern Shore on the funding formula workgroup.

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