Rice Says Kirwan Commission Headed in Right Direction, But Hogan Must Be Willing To Pay for Proposed Reforms

Education group will submit recommendations to General Assembly by end of year

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Craig Rice meets with students Sept. 4, the first day of school in Montgomery County

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Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice says he remains optimistic about the direction taken by Maryland’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission.

But he warns the state legislature and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) must find a way to pay for any reforms proposed by the commission chaired by William E. Kirwan, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland.

Rice is one of 24 members of the commission, which was formed in 2016 to develop and recommend reforms and policies to help close the achievement gap among students in the state’s struggling school systems. The commission is expected to submit recommendations to the legislature by the end of the year, he said. But Rice noted it is unclear how many of the proposed reforms will receive funding in the upcoming legislative session that begins in January.

“We’re not the ones who are deciding how we are gonna pay for it,” Rice said in an interview Friday morning. “The key is that this governor, who was elected with overwhelming support, needs to pony up and support education reform.”

The commission held a public hearing Thursday in Annapolis, and has three more meetings scheduled in December. Rice said Thursday’s hearing featured requests from the public for programs that commission members are already considering, such as universal pre-kindergarten and those that will help ensure college and career readiness for students by 10th grade.

“It was really kind of a check in to see what direction we were going in and see what nuance we missed,” he said.

Many in Montgomery County have been worried about the commission’s proposed changes to the state’s funding formulas, which would allocate more money to struggling school systems. Rice said the commission is considering increasing state funding per student from $8,000 to $10,000, which he thinks would help pay for resources needed in Montgomery County to help students with special needs and English language learners.

“When you look at the amount of money each school system gets based on the number of children, that is something that’s looking to be automatically increased based on the recommendation,” he said.

Last year’s Montgomery County Public Schools $2.6 billion budget consisted of $1.7 billion in county funding, $708 million in state funding, $76 million from the federal government and other money from carryover funds and special revenues. Rice said the state usually provides 30 percent of MCPS’s annual funding, but the figure could change depending on the commission’s recommendations.

Rice said he understands that MCPS may have fewer needs than the state’s struggling school systems, but that “you can’t ask us [Montgomery County] to be the ATM for the state as well, so there has to be a balance. And I think the General Assembly understands that.”

Rice said Hogan’s pledge to not raise taxes will present challenges for the legislature.

“Folks are gonna have to be really creative when it comes to coming up with funding sources,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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