SILVER SPRING – Hundreds of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) employees, parents and students gathered at Montgomery Blair High School to learn about objectives and concerns of a commission that focuses on public education.
People learned about what the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, popularly known as the Kirwan Commission, wants to be included in the state budget, and why they are essential to commission members. The commission advocates for more funding for schools and education in the state.
Residents who attended the town hall on Nov. 6 received an overview of the funding the commission is proposing and objectives that the commission aims to help with funding.
Civic organization Strong Schools Maryland helped organize the meeting, as well as about 19 similar events throughout the state so that members of the public had an opportunity to learn about the commission and its goals for school funding.
Joseph Francaviglia, executive director of Strong Schools Maryland, gave a presentation about the commission’s recommendations, and he also provided a couple of opportunities for people in the audience to chat with their neighbors about top issues that the Kirwan Commission advocated fixing.
William E. “Brit” Kirwan, who chairs the commission bearing his name, built up some energy in the room when he gave a speech to encourage the audience to support increased funding to education.
“I call this fighting for the soul of Maryland,” the commission chairman said about how the school system and the state will fund the increased needs of today’s enrollment.
MCPS enrollment has been gradually increasing during the last 10 years. The preliminary total student enrollment in MCPS as of Sept. 30, 2019 is 165,439.
The September 2019 preliminary enrollment data show that the county enrollment increased by 2,759 students compared to the 2018-2019 school year. Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith, as well as other officials in MCPS have said that the student population gradually has seen increasing needs in terms of support services.
Meanwhile, Francaviglia said one of the tenets of the commission’s goals is allowing for more resources to help students who are “at-risk,” meaning English language learners, students who come from low-income families or and students who have disabilities.
As for the legislature, this year, the General Assembly approved money from Kirwan Commission recommendations when it passed Senate Bill 1030: The Education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The bill includes $24.4 million for MCPS, wrote Montgomery County senior legislative analyst Craig Howard in a memorandum the Council Education and Culture Committee in May.
President of the county teacher’s union Chris Lloyd (Montgomery County Education Association), said the meeting’s purpose was to inform people early so they understand the needs in public school education and the commission’s objectives. Then they would be equipped to help advocate the legislature.
“The purpose of the town halls are so that community members can engage with the electeds around what the Kirwan Commission is, and about the need for funding for our schools,” Lloyd said. “And the idea is to do this prior to the legislative session, so that people, when they go to Annapolis in January, can be educated on what’s needed, and can cast good votes in that way.”
The recommendation that the legislature will consider will be a continuation of what the legislature approved during the 2019 legislative session, a down payment of funding that would last two years, according to Lloyd.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) wrote in a statement this year that he allowed the bill to become a law but refused to sign it, partly due to the hefty price tag.
The Commission had made recommendations to the General Assembly to increase education funding during the 2019 legislative session following an external study, which consultants said showed public education in the state is underfunded by nearly $3 billion. The external analysis was overseen by the state board of education, according to the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA).
Although the legislature approved plans to increase funding for education, it still needs a potential funding formula for it. Therefore, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula Workgroup met a few times in October and November and discussed a funding method it plans to propose to the legislature.
Francaviglia included in his presentation five priority areas of the commission, and then asked a panel of people to identify one of the five things about which they were the most concerned.
“(The accountability piece) is one of the pillars of the Kirwan recommendations, is that there is accountability structure so that when money is handed to each of the districts, someone’s going to be checking that they’re spending it on the correct Kirwan initiatives,” said Sally Murek, vice president of SEIU Local 500 Union.
Then, people in attendance received an opportunity to write down their questions on index cards. Students helping with the event collected the cards, and then members of Strong Schools Maryland selected some to ask the panelists. Some members of the audience asked questions about the affordability of the proposed money.
Several members of the Maryland General Assembly who represent Montgomery County were in attendance, as well as a few members of the county council.