Cash for Kirwan Commission Grants Is Flowing to Local School Boards

Kirwan Commission
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Money to fund initial recommendations of the Kirwan Commission is flowing to local school systems.

More than $65.4 million has been awarded by the Maryland State Department of Education to support students with disabilities, and the department has also awarded $75 million for grants to match local teacher salary increases in all 24 local jurisdictions in the state.

The funds for seven different grant programs were set aside by the General Assembly in Senate Bill 1030, called The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, and changes were made to the state budget.

The bill, as passed by the legislature, aims for more than $725 million in expanded funding in 2021 and 2022, with an additional $130 million contingent upon revenue legislation.

Lawmakers also passed a fiscal 2020 budget with the $255 million in initial funding, cobbling together the increased spending by fencing off other areas of the governor’s proposed budget; Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) agreed to release the funds that he’d originally designated for other programs.

So far, more than $225 million has been awarded in grants by the Maryland State Department of Education. More than $251 million is expected to be released through about 150 grants for the 2019-2020 school year, Amalie Brandenburg, chief operating officer for the state department, said at a state board meeting Tuesday.

The teacher salary grants – recommended by the commission with a goal to retain high-quality teachers in the state – were allocated to school systems that provided a raise of at least 3 percent to all employees who bargain with teachers. The state funds must be used to additionally supplement teacher pay, with a priority on starting salaries and increasing the pay for teachers with less than five years of experience. One of the commission’s key findings was that almost half of new teachers in their second year will not return the next school year.

The department has also awarded $51 million for concentration of poverty grants that will create in-school support systems for schools with large numbers of low-income students. Schools with 80 percent or more students qualifying for free or reduced-priced lunches were eligible for the grants.

The grant provides $248,333 for each eligible school, which must then employ a community schools coordinator and a health care practitioner, according to the bill. If the grant exceeds the cost of hiring those two positions, the school can use the rest of the funds to provide wraparound services such as health care programs and extended learning programs. Twelve local school systems received the grants, to be spent at hundreds of schools.

All 24 local school systems received $83,333 to hire mental health services coordinators, a position required by the Safe to Learn Act of 2018.

About $31.7 million was awarded to supplement spending on prekindergarten programs in 22 jurisdictions and $23 million in grants are available to create supplemental instruction programs for students who are performing below grade level in English/language arts or reading in kindergarten through third grade. The state will accept applications for teacher training program grants totaling $2.5 million through Aug. 9.

The programs funded for the 2019-2020 school year were the first items to be prioritized in a long list of recommendations from the Kirwan Commission that aim to fully reform Maryland schools with the goal of replicating and building on successful programs worldwide. That goal comes with a lofty price tag, estimated at $3.8 billion over current spending levels annually after a 10-year phase-in.

A workgroup that is tasked with setting new funding formulas for public education will meet Wednesday in Annapolis.

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