The chairman of a committee looking to revamp Maryland’s education system promised on Thursday to deliver a full report before the start of the legislative session.
After a midday conversation about whether the Commission for Innovation and Excellence in Education would hit its January deadline for a final report, Chairman William E. “Brit” Kirwan said the commission was committed to delivering to lawmakers a complete report on policy recommendations, as well as cost estimates for those recommendations and suggestions for changes to the state’s education funding formulas.
But the commission has yet to earnestly work on tinkering with the funding formulas. On Thursday, a majority decided to move forward with formula assumptions to allow analysts at the Department of Legislative Services to begin modeling the effect of other potential changes.
The department will begin work on a model that would include some of the commission’s most expensive recommendations – the creation of a “career ladder” for teachers and a commensurate increase in salaries – in the state’s foundation formula. A majority of the commission also seemed to agree that it would be best to establish a separate funding formula for pre-kindergarten education, which they are recommending be implemented by all school districts in the state.
The estimated cost for increased teacher salaries and the creation of the career ladder that would require professional certification of teachers in exchange for salaries in line with other jobs that require upper-level degrees, is estimated to cost $1.3 billion; an additional $1.3 billion is the estimated cost of hiring additional teachers to allow all educators more time to work outside the classroom on planning and developing strategies to help struggling students.
Recommendations to implement universal pre-kindergarten, expand career and technical education programs, and provide more resources to at-risk students bring the commission’s total estimated price tag to $4.4 billion annually in 2030. All of the costs are recommended to be phased in over a 10-year period.
Part of the commission’s work on the funding formulas will determine how much of the increased costs are paid by the state government and how much will be passed down to counties.
Kirwan was cautious about the overall price tag for the commission’s work. Recommendations could still change, he said, and it may be necessary to find cost-savings to present a more politically palatable set of recommendations. He said the cost of the commission’s proposals represented “a large increase by any stretch of the imagination.”
But other commissioners, including Maryland State Education Association Executive Director David E. Helfman, said the overall price tag for the commission’s recommendations was modest, given the sweeping changes proposed.
“As I look at this, I’m kind of surprised that the cost is as low as it is,” Helfman said.
He noted that the commission started its work two years ago hearing an expert’s report that the state then had fallen $2.9 billion short of education funding adequacy. To see that the commission’s combination of recommendations would lead to an increase of only $4.4 billion within the next decade and bring the state up to “world-class” education standards was encouraging, Helfman said.
The commission’s cost estimates, however, don’t account for inflation.
Maryland Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley noted that the state has a projected structural deficit and will be faced with several other potentially costly legislative proposals come January.
The commission briefly discussed Thursday culling back the pre-kindergarten proposal, but instead of cutting a recommendation that many on the commission feel is an essential step to improving later education outcomes, it may instead just include a list of cost-savings options in a final report to the General Assembly.
Earlier in the day, commissioner Chester E. Finn Jr. said the overall recommendations on teacher salaries and staffing could be perceived as hiring more people to do less work for more pay. The commission would need a “bulletproof” explanation for making such choices, he said.
Finn also asserted that the international education models the commission used to establish standards for things like teacher planning time came from countries where classes are bigger and school support staffs are smaller, two issues he said the commission had not adequately addressed.
The Department of Legislative Services offered an estimate Thursday that every one-student increase in average class size in the state would save an estimated $170 million.
In a tight vote, the commission voted down a proposed recommendation from Helfman that would have called for a “living wage” for school support personnel. Those who voted against the proposal said it was too late in the commission’s work and too close to the deadline for a report to consider additional policy recommendations.
The commission is scheduled to meet again on Dec. 18 and 19 in Annapolis.