Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38)

Education guidelines move forward: Maryland General Assembly to review policies

(Nov. 29, 2019) When the Kirwan Commission approved funding recommendations designed to revamp Maryland’s school systems during a meeting, Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) was one of three commission members who voted against it last Thursday.

She joined Maryland Department of Budget Management Secretary David Brinkley and Queen Anne’s County Commissioner and Maryland Association of Counties representative Jack Wilson in the dissent.

“The current all-or-nothing approach by the commission is unrealistic and does not provide the flexibility needed for local jurisdictions,” Carozza said in a statement. “One size does not fit all when it comes to the commission’s recommendations.” 

Carozza said while she supported recommendations themselves, she couldn’t justify the roughly $3.8 billion price tag that would be phased in over 10 years. 

“In my remarks before the vote, I made it very clear that I support … the policy recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, and those are in areas where I really do believe if we make improvements in those areas we will improve overall Maryland student performance,” Carozza said. 

The recommendations focus on several areas, including vocational training, increased teacher salaries and subsidized prekindergarten and assistance for poverty areas. Carozza cited cost, additional resources and the preliminary formulas’ outcomes as reasons for her dissenting vote.

“I have been advocating for fair funding formulas for the local area, and the formulas we voted on Thursday did not make the necessary changes to improve the funding formulas for the shore, especially for Worcester County,” she said.

A subgroup was tasked with creating funding formulas for counties to determine how much the county and state would contribute. Preliminary recommendations were released during an Oct. 15 workgroup meeting.

The commission’s wealth calculation incorporates the property tax base and income tax totals. Worcester County, with a population of a little more than 51,000, has a resort-generated assessable base of almost $16 billion.

County officials would have to budget an additional $5.3 million for schools in 2030. The state would give $7 million by 2030, which figures to be a combined $12.3 million increase on school spending in Worcester County. 

However, preliminary funding formulas report that Wicomico County would receive an additional $73.8 million from the state and contribute $9.4 million over the upcoming decade. For per capita wealth, that county ranks 22nd in the state. 

Carozza said that she believes prioritization is a key way to make these steep recommendations more realistic. 

“I think prioritization and affordability are directly linked to the local jurisdiction,” Carozza said. “So, for example, I would support a proposal that would allow our local jurisdictions Worcester County, Wicomico County, Somerset County, to factor in the recommendations: what do they need to do for their individual county and what is affordable for their individual county?”

Worcester County’s contingent of local officials and education leaders, attended a November Kirwan Commission meeting to discuss the funding formulas and the school district’s progress with implementing the recommendations, according to Carozza.

“They are asking for the flexibility to move forward in the areas to prioritize those recommendations, and also they have consistently demanded fair funding formulas since Worcester County contributes the most of every county to its local education and receives the least amount from the state,” Carozza said.

Among state leaders taking a more cautious approach is Gov. Larry Hogan, who said he could not issue support for the recommendations at this time.

“Local leaders agree with me—they will not support the billions in crippling state and local tax increases that would be required,” Hogan said in a statement. “Some good ideas have been discussed, but the commission mostly focused on simply increasing spending, rather than real accountability measures and better results for our children.”

Conversely, some Worcester County residents said they feel the increased costs for these recommendations are justified. Deborah Fisher, of Ocean Pines, and Joan Roache, of Ocean City, submitted written testimony to the commission for last week’s meeting expressing their support.

They also recognized an editorial written by Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino, who asked “What will Kirwan mean for Worcester?”

“The answer is that the Kirwan recommendations will result in an increase of some 30 [percent] or more Worcester students being college and career ready when they graduate from high school,” Fisher and Roache said in a statement.

While they acknowledged the burden on Worcester County to contribute more funding with less state assistance, the residents expressed their concerns with the current statistics associated with students being college- and career-ready. Fisher and Roache asserted that roughly 57.6 percent of students were able to pass a 10th grade English test, and 46.9 percent of students could pass an Algebra I test. 

“But any county in which only half of their high school graduates are college- and career-ready, should be asking the question, ‘what should we do differently to meet the needs of our children?’” Fisher and Roache said.

Nevertheless, the approved recommendations will go before members of the Maryland General Assembly in its upcoming session. The legislature will convene on Jan. 8.

Carozza stressed that the Kirwan Commission recommendations “will be a priority defining issue for the 2020 Maryland General Assembly session.”

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