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Students at Ocean City Elementary School during the first day of school. Lawmakers are still pushing for more diversity on the Kirwan Accountability and Implementation Board to ensure Worcester County schools are represented adequately when funding for the multi-billion-dollar education plan is dispersed over the coming years.

The backlash over the lack of geographical diversity among the nine Maryland residents nominated to oversee the disbursement of billions of dollars in state education funding continues among local representatives, but all hope is not lost for better representation.

Lawmakers from rural western Maryland to the Eastern Shore cried foul recently in bipartisan unison when the nominees for the Accountability and Implementation Board appointed to steer the Kirwan education plan were announced — and included individuals from only four of the state’s 24 school districts.

And while a news release from the nominating committee issued on Sept. 1 shows that the 43 applications received only came from six districts — none of which were Eastern Shore counties — local representatives are questioning how much effort was put into ensuring a diverse pool.

“In hindsight, there should have been a stronger effort on the front end of the nominations process to put the word out about the importance of this Kirwan oversight board and a better system to ensure that applications were being sought from all parts of the State,” Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) said in an emailed statement this week. “For example, if I had been consulted, I would have worked with the Nominating Committee to ensure that information was shared with Eastern Shore constituencies about the AIB nominations process.”

The nominating committee chose nine people — all from central Maryland districts in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Montgomery County — to vet for the seven-member AIB. The names will go next to the Senate for confirmation, unless opponents convince nominating committee members to submit a new list.

According to the AIB release, members of the nominating committee announced to more than 40 media outlets that they were accepting the applications for the board, and posted the information on its website.

Eastern Shore Delegation Chairman Del. Steven J. Arentz (R-36), sent a letter on Sept. 23 to nominating board chair Shanaysha Sauls and vice chair Paul Pinskyas expressing local representatives’ concerns over the lack of geographic diversity among the nominations. The letter also called out the committee members for a “lack of transparency” in reference to the closed-door meetings where they named the individuals.

“Given that … accountability is the focus of the commission, surely the meetings should be held in full view of the public,” the letter said.

Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38C) also expressed his frustration this week over the lack of representation.

“We advocated once we saw who the nominees were for them to expand the nominations,” he said. “I was personally involved in advocating for it to be expanded, not only for geographical reach but for greater diversity.”

Hartman — along with most Republican lawmakers, including Gov. Larry Hogan — has opposed the Kirwan bill, known officially as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, since its inception due primarily to the high associated costs. And while reiterating disdain for the original bill this week, Hartman pointed out that the limited list of nominees just proves its “inherent flaws.”

He added that, like Carozza, he was not asked to nominate anyone for the AIB.

“I was never asked to put forward any names or anything,” Hartman said. “Worcester County was very vocal in their concerns with not being represented. And the whole Eastern Shore … All these rural areas are not represented. Life is very different and education needs are very different from what’s needed in Montgomery County, Baltimore city, Prince George’s County, whatever, [than] what’s needed in the rural areas.”

Ideally, Hartman said he would like to see the Kirwan plan scrapped and for the districts to regain local control, but he knows that likely will not happen. In turn, he hopes ultimately for better representation on the board.

Carozza said she hopes that the outcry from representatives across the state, as well the governor, and groups like the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus — who criticized the lack of Latino representation on the AIB — will send the nominating committee back to the drawing board for applicants.

“The enormous amount of taxpayer dollars spent by the Accounting and Implementation Board, along with its powerful oversight role, demands that there be a true cross-section of Marylanders on the AIB Board,” Carozza said. “By raising the issue of the lack of diversity on the current AIB Board, I believe we will see individuals appointed to the new advisory board that will strike a better balance of all Maryland and future appointments that take into account the concerns we raised about geographic and racial diversity.”

Carozza promised that no matter who the nominees are, the approval process will be tough.

“We as Senators can question and press to ensure that each nominee has a keen understanding of the unique issues to each jurisdiction and reject any nominee who does not demonstrate a sound familiarity with the different demographics in school systems throughout Maryland,” she said.

The Kirwan plan is slated to increase state and county annual education spending by roughly $3.2 billion per year over 10 years.

Some of the highlights include free preschool for 3-and-4-year-olds living at 300 percent below the poverty level, a pay raise for teachers, college- and career-readiness standards, vocational education, and allocated funding for counties.

The bill passed through both chambers in 2020 but Hogan vetoed it. He said then that he was not in favor of raising taxes, especially during a pandemic. Lawmakers returned and overrode his veto last session, approving a revised version that still failed to ease opponents’ concerns.

Local representatives have never supported the plan, which requires Worcester County to make the largest financial contribution of all counties in the state because of its high tax capacity compared to its small population.

This story appears in the print version of the Ocean City Today on Oct. 8.

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