An education funding workgroup passed recommendations on Tuesday that would increase education spending in Maryland by $4 billion annually over the next decade – but not without some reservations from members of the panel.
As drafted, the plan would require state funding to steadily increase over the next decade until an additional $2.77 billion in state aid would go to schools in 2030. County budgets would also increase during that time period, up to a cumulative $1.23 billion annually.
However, some jurisdictions bear heavy burdens under the proposal, including the city of Baltimore, which would have to double education spending once adjusted for inflation, from about $280.5 million today to about $661.2 million in 2030.
Other counties would see steep increases in their local education funding obligations, as well:
Prince George’s County would have to increase funding by about 38 percent to $1.3 billion annually in 2030. Kent County would have to increase funding by about 41 percent over the next decade and Talbot County would face a 40 percent increase in local spending.
Several counties already put more into their local education systems than the new formula would require, including Allegany, Calvert, Carroll, Charles, Howard, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s and Somerset. Those counties would be required to continue their education funding efforts through an annual maintenance of effort calculation, but would not necessarily need to dramatically increase funding to meet education reforms proposed by the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.
“Clearly there are winners and losers,” said Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R), a member of the workgroup, who as president of the Maryland Association of Counties, said he couldn’t bring himself to vote one way or another on the proposed funding formula.
The workgroup and commission chairman William E. “Brit” Kirwan interjected, noting that every school district in the state will see an increase in state funding over the next decade, between 22 percent and 43 percent over current state funding levels.
Glassman pressed his concerns about the local funding burdens.
“If you’re a poor Eastern Shore county and you have to come up with $1 million and you can’t come up with it, you’re not a winner,” he responded.
Much of the conversation on Tuesday centered on Baltimore City’s funding burden.
Former state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Democrat from Baltimore, said it was “dreamland” to think that the city could overcome historical underfunding of equity programs and meet the mandated increases within a decade. She wanted to know how the workgroup or broader Kirwan Commission would work to set goals that are within the city’s fiscal reach.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said there could be changes to accommodate the city’s financial burden, but the city’s elected officials also needed to refocus.
For instance, the workgroup recommended a change to so-called Concentration of Poverty Grants that will be paid entirely by the state in all but the wealthiest counties. Lawmakers could also consider giving the city credit toward education spending for programs that are paid out of other parts of the city budget, like crossing guards and transportation services.
McIntosh and Kirwan are meeting later this week with charities in the city to see if they can supplement funding for education programs.
“We can help, but they have to help, too,” McIntosh said of city leaders.
She suggested that new city leaders should direct anticipated budget surpluses entirely or mostly to education and that education should be prioritized over other city spending in the future.
“I’m not at all afraid to take this to City Hall and say let’s figure out how to work together to make this happen,” she said.
Several other members of the workgroup spoke to defend the plan, including its efforts to address wealth equity in the state by directing more state funding for schools with high concentrations of students living in poverty, requiring local school systems to fund equity programs that were previously exempt from maintenance of effort, and phasing out some old formulas that benefited wealthier jurisdictions.
Under the formula, state education aid would increase by about 5.6 percent annually for the next 10 years until state education funding hits $10.2 billion in 2030. Local governments will begin funding the local share of the new formulas in the 2022 fiscal year, with a cumulative increase of $8.9 billion by 2030.
The new formula will now head back to the larger 25-member Kirwan Commission, which could make changes before a final recommendation is presented to the governor and legislative leaders.
While the workgroup created a funding formula to accomplish a broad set of education reforms proposed by the Kirwan Commission, the workgroup did not contemplate where the funding would come from.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has launched criticisms at the panel, which he refers to as the Kirwan Tax Hike Commission, saying the proposals will require a tax increase that lawmakers aren’t being honest about.
“Unfortunately, the Kirwan Tax Hike Commission is hellbent on spending billions more than we can afford, and legislators are refusing to come clean about where the money is going to come from,” Hogan said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “Even after more than three years of meetings, there is still no clear plan whatsoever for how either the state or the counties will pay this massive price tag.”
Hogan’s Budget secretary, David R. Brinkley, is a member of the Kirwan work group that met Tuesday, and he joined Glassman by not casting a vote one way or another on the funding formula plan. The rest of the 13-member workgroup unanimously endorsed the plan.
The increases in state funding through the 2022 fiscal year were partly accounted for in legislation passed by the General Assembly last year, which mandated that $981.5 million be directed to education reform, $130 million contingent on new revenues.