School Funding Formulas Remain a Concern for Montgomery Officials

Kirwan Commission has proposed a $4.4 billion increase in spending over 10 years

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Maryland General Assembly

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A $4.4 billion increase in Maryland education funding over a decade is good news for Montgomery County, elected officials say. But they agree that the extent of the benefits won’t be determined until the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education determines the formula by which that money will be divided among the state’s 24 public school systems.

The 25-member commission, also called the Kirwan Commission after William E. Kirwan, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland, met Thursday in Annapolis and agreed on the $4.4 billion amount, which is to be phased in by 2030. The increase will mainly fund expanded pre-kindergarten programs for low-income students and teacher pay increases.

The commission is set to submit their final recommendations to the Maryland General Assembly by January, when the session begins in Annapolis.

State Sen. Nancy King, a Democrat who represents Germantown, Montgomery Village and Clarksburg and sits on the commission, said Friday that the original funding formulas that were proposed when the commission began its work in 2016 would have left Montgomery County Public Schools with $36 million less in annual state funding. She said there is no need for the commission to “rush” when it comes to the funding formulas, even if it means not meeting the deadline in January.

“I know the general public is looking for something to happen right away,” she said. “The big concern is that we [in Montgomery County] don’t want to come home with less money.”

King said the legislature could conceivably draft multiple bills that deal with separate aspects of the Kirwan recommendations, and that some, but not all, could be passed in the upcoming session. But no programs can be implemented, she said, until the funding formulas are determined.

“I don’t know how responsible it would be to approve all of these programs without a way to pay for it,” she said.

Montgomery County Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill said Friday that the programs Kirwan is proposing are needed in Montgomery County.

“There is a looming teacher shortage nationally,” she said. “Not as many people are going into education as once were. So salaries need to support teachers as a profession.”

O’Neill added that expanded pre-kindergarten is also a major need of MCPS and is in line with  the goals of County Executive Marc Elrich.. But increasing educational opportunities  for 3 and 4-year-olds will be difficult if MCPS’s share of state funding is reduced, even with the proposed increase in state education funding. Otherwise, the county will be forced to find “creative solutions” for creating additional spaces for early childhood education, O’Neill said. She said the newly opened Macdonald Knolls Early Childcare Center in Silver Spring, which is housed in a former elementary school, is a good example of a creative solution

“It’s all good to get more money [for the state]. It’s noble. But there’s just so much more we need to do, and we have to keep our eye on the base formulas,” she said.

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

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