Baltimore, Prince George’s Could See Relief in Amended Kirwan Plan

Two Prince George's lawmakers, Del. Alonzo T. Washington (pictured) and Del. Ben Barnes, have proposed amendments to the Blueprint for Maryland's Future that would require fewer financial commitments from their home county and Baltimore City to pay for education reforms. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Public schools in the city of Baltimore and Prince George’s County could see a dramatic increase in state funding under newly proposed amendments to a multi-billion-dollar education reform bill being debated in the General Assembly.

The two jurisdictions were hardest hit by changes to Maryland’s education funding formula proposed by the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. According to a fiscal analysis released earlier this month, Baltimore faced a $340 million annual increase in local education spending by 2030 and Prince George’s County faced an annual increase of $386 million by the end of the decade.

Proposed changes to the funding formula before the education subcommittees of the House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees would cut those local obligations in half.

Del. Ben Barnes (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee of Appropriations, said proposed changes to the funding formula include a new “maximum local effort index” that would attempt to balance a county’s wealth and its required local share of education funding formulas to bring all jurisdictions in the state closer to an average effort.

As a result, the state would increase annual funding for the city and Prince George’s by $146.9 million and $202.9 million respectively by 2030.

“It is not what the Kirwan Commission envisioned, to have our least wealthy counties have the largest local shares,” Barnes said Thursday.

Paired with other proposed changes to the formula, the city’s 2030 obligation would decrease by $172.2 million, according to preliminary estimates provided to subcommittee members on Thursday evening. The city would still be required to increase annual spending by about $168 million, if other earlier fiscal estimates hold true. Prince George’s local annual increase would be about $91 million.

Del. Ben Barnes (D-Prince George’s)

No county will face an increase as a result of the funding formula changes, Barnes said, but the proposed changes mean other counties would also see a decrease in local obligations at the end of the 10-year phase-in period for the reforms. Those counties include Allegany, Baltimore, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Kent, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Washington and Wicomico.

But that means the state would be picking up the tab. The amendments would increase the state’s education spending by an additional $369.1 million by 2030. Before the amendments, state education funding was expected to increase by about $2.6 billion annually by 2030.

Lawmakers have spent much of this legislative session debating revenue bills that could cover such an influx in education spending. On Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to hold a marathon session to hear testimony on a $2.6 billion proposal from House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) that would lower the state’s sales tax rate to 5 percent, but expand it to apply to most services.

The proposed funding formula changes were the most consequential among more than five dozen amendments presented to the education subcommittees in a 30-minute meeting on Thursday evening. The proposed changes are being presented to the subcommittees as amendments from the chairmen, Barnes and Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s), head of the Education Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee.

Some committee members expressed frustration during Thursday’s meeting with the speed at which proposed amendments were flying and a lack of substantive explanations for each one. House Appropriations member Jefferson L. Ghrist (R-Upper Shore) appeared to walk out of the meeting in frustration at one point, but returned a short time later.

“This train’s rolling down the tracks, you can see that,” Del. Haven Shoemaker (R-Carroll) said after the meeting adjourned. “All we can do is make the best possible argument for fiscal sanity, let the folks know what’s going on … and let the chips fall where they may.”

Barnes and Washington said committee members would get written synopses of the proposed amendments on Friday, and full rewrites of the chairs’ proposed amended bill on Sunday night. The subcommittees will debate the proposed changes and potentially vote on Monday.

After the meeting ended, Barnes promised that “we’re going to make sure everyone’s voice is heard in this process.”

[email protected]