Business Leaders Urge Funding, Adoption of Kirwan Commission Reforms

William E. "Brit" Kirwan at a meeting of The Blueprint for Maryland's Future Funding Formula Workgroup. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

More than three dozen business leaders in Maryland signed a letter encouraging the state’s top lawmakers to fund and implement the multibillion-dollar Kirwan Commission education reform plan.

The letter was sent Wednesday to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) and Senate President-Nominee Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).

Among the 38 business leaders who signed it were Norman R. Augustine, retired chairman of Lockheed Martin; James L. Shea, chairman emeritus of the Baltimore law firm Venable and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate; David Blair, chairman of Accountable Health and former candidate for county executive in Montgomery; Mark Fetting, former CEO of Legg Mason; former U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen, a Democrat who represented the 4th District in the late 1980s and early 1990s; Laura Gamble, a regional vice president of PNC Bank; and Matthew Gallagher, president and CEO of the Goldseker Foundation and former chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, who served on a workgroup that recommended a new state education funding formula.

The move is seen as a counter-argument to Hogan, who has asserted the Kirwan reforms are unrealistic and will result in massive tax increases. Part of Hogan’s strategy has been to rally opposition from certain business leaders — and he has been raising money for a political action committee in part to fight any legislation that includes tax hikes to pay for Kirwan.

“We are business leaders whose lives have been committed to building the economy and providing jobs for Marylanders,” the signatories of the new letter wrote. “Maryland employers and employees must compete with companies across the United States and across the world. To succeed in an ever increasingly competitive global economy, our state must have a world-class education system.”

The business leaders are aligned with Strong Schools Maryland, an advocacy group founded by David Hornbeck, former Maryland state superintendent of schools and a leader of past education reform movements in Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Strong Schools is part of a coalition that has been working around the state to drum up support for the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, which include expansion of pre-kindergarten and career technology, increasing education standards, given more supports to students in poverty and elevating the teaching profession.

The reforms are projected to raise the annual cost of education in the state by about $4 billion by 2030.

The letter writers argued that the education reforms could lead to better educated workers who will make more money, pay more taxes and rely on fewer public services, citing a recent “return on investment” study commissioned by Strong Schools.

“The real question – and the true challenge for our state, its citizens and the state’s political leadership – is where are we going to be as a state if we fail to enact the Commission’s recommendations,” they wrote. “…Maryland, its economy, and, most importantly, its citizens are going to be left behind if we don’t get to work now on the problem of public education in Maryland. By both tangible and intangible measures, the cost of inaction here exceeds the cost of action. To protect and enhance the standard of living and the quality of life we all want for all Marylanders, we need to act.”

MORE: Read the full letter.

Despite Hogan’s opposition, Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly have declared funding the recommendations a top priority for the 2020 session and say that massive revenue increases won’t be immediately needed.

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