On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Last November, Maryland’s “Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education” — commonly referred to as the Kirwan Commission — proposed sweeping education reform recommendations. Among the proposals: boosting teacher pay, expanding pre-kindergarten programs and increasing support to schools with poor families.
In its recommendations, the Kirwan Commission proposed the amount of money state and local jurisdictions should spend, but didn’t offer suggestions on how it should be financed. This has left some worried about funding the sweeping education changes: The proposals are estimated to cost about $4 billion a year once they’re fully implemented.
The Democratic-led legislature is now considering bills to implement the recommendations. Lawmakers and education activists kicked off the process with a well-attended hearing on Monday. What should we expect as the legislature makes its way through the House and Senate?
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll find out what NASCAR is doing to bring more diversity to the professional auto racing scene. But first this Monday Maryland's General Assembly had its first hearing for a bill that would make sweeping changes to the state's education system. It comes on the recommendations of a state commission that spent three years developing a funding model and education improvements and there is a large price tag. Joining me to discuss the future of Maryland education is Debbie Truong. She is WAMU's Education reporter. Debbie, thank you so much for joining us.
DEBBIE TRUONGThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAre you a teacher or parent in Maryland? How would you like to see funding and school resources improve? 800-433-8850. Debbie, remind us what is the Kirwan Commission and what did the commission recommend to legislators?
TRUONGSure. So in 2016 the Maryland General Assembly created the commission on innovation and excellence in education. It's now commonly known as the Kirwan Commission and it's named after William Kirwan the former Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, who chaired the commission. The commission was made up of more than two dozen educators, local and state lawmakers and business people from across the state. Broadly speaking the commission was responsible for researching and recommending ways to improve the quality of education in Maryland.
TRUONGLate last year the panel issued its final recommendations that called for a number of investments in several areas. These recommendations included expanding Pre-K for low income families, raising teacher salaries to at least $60,000 a year by 2029, expanding the number of career and technical education offerings in schools and improving standards to make sure students are prepared for college and well-paying jobs after high school. It also called for more support for vulnerable students including those who receive special education services and students from low income families.
NNAMDIThe commission was also tasked with looking at how much the proposals would cost. What's the price tag on these changes?
TRUONGSure. So the plan is expected to eventually cost $4 billion in new money each year. Once fully phased in in 2030, the cost would be $2.6 billion in new money from the state and about $1.3 billion in money from local jurisdictions so cities and counties for example.
NNAMDIOn Monday, Maryland had its first hearing for the bill that would implement the Kirwan Commission's changes, but before that hearing there was a rally outside the state house. What did you hear comments from students and teachers there?
TRUONGYeah. So it was a very lively rally. It happened right across the street from where the hearing was held. The students and teachers that I talked with were very adamant in saying that this is something that they very much need and want to pass. I talked with a school psychologist in Prince George's County and she talked with me about how her case load is 3,000 students between two schools, and the recommended case load for school psychologists is about 700 students per person. So she was hoping, you know, that some of this additional money and resources would help alleviate some of her burden.
TRUONGYou know, I talked with a student in Baltimore City, who said that he doesn't feel he has very much access to extracurricular programs. He expressed an interest, for example, in fashion design and he didn't feel that he had, you know, an avenue to explore that within his school system.
NNAMDIJoining me in studio is Cheryl Bost, President of the Maryland State Education Association. Cheryl Bost, thank you for joining us.
CHERYL BOSTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIHow was the Maryland State Education Association involved in the Kirwan Commission and what did you think of the final recommendations?
BOSTWell, we're excited that the Kirwan recommendations have finally been shared with the legislature. We did have one member of the commission that represented the Maryland State Education Association, David Helfman our Executive Director representing all of the educators. And there was only one other educator on the commission. But as the commission went through its deliberations we went to visit our schools throughout the state asking them what their needs and challenges were that they were facing on a daily basis.
BOSTWe held community forums with coalition partners all over the state to say, what do you want for your school? And how can you help us make sure that that is secured through funding and policy? So we look at this as a once in a generation opportunity to really make a comprehensive change and add funding to our schools.
NNAMDIYour organization is one of the more vocal supporters of the Kirwan proposal. According to the Baltimore Sun you spent $784,000 on lobbying in the 2019 General Assembly. Why did you throw that much support financially and otherwise behind this commission?
BOSTThe last time that our schools systems -- their funding formulas and policies have been looked was almost 20 years ago. And a lot has changed and our educators and parents have told us that there are too many challenges, higher class sizes, not enough school counselors, social workers, psychologists, not enough resources to deal with students living in concentrated poverty. They want to see expansion of Pre-K and career technology education.
BOSTSo we felt it was very important to mobilize educators through the state. And that's what we did and we're still doing that to make sure that this bill gets passed. It really is an investment in our students. And we have been going around the state saying, "Our kids can't wait." And that really is the truth. They can't wait any longer for funding to be put into the schools so that they can have top education.
NNAMDIThe previous commission about 20 years ago was called Thornton Commission after Alvin Thornton, who is now the Chairman of the Prince George's County School Board, but who was then a professional educator here, and that proposal had problems with funding also. You testified at Monday's hearing. In addition to voicing your support for the legislation you recommended some changes. What were they?
BOSTRight. We're going to be working through some amendments. We want to make sure that educator voice is throughout all the commission reports making sure that when expert teams go out to, you know, evaluate implementation plans that we truly have educators as a part of that. We want to make sure that the certification that is being required of educators is sound and we have quality people. But we also make sure that we build a pipeline of educators. So there are some technical amendments that we see in there. And we want to make sure that the collective bargaining process is not usurped in anywhere in the bill. But overwhelmingly there's a lot of support and a lot of positivity we see within the blue print.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Paul Pinsky. He's a Democratic Maryland Senator representing District 22, which is in Prince George's County. He's also a member of the Kirwan Commission. I mentioned that you were on the Kirwan Commission. Tell us about how the commission developed the recommendations.
PAUL PINSKYWell, the charge given to us was to not only redo funding formulas, but to come up with a proposal to make Maryland schools world class. The consultant benchmarked internationally those countries that have developed outstanding systems as well as states in the United States that have made major major progress. So we took all of that information and translated that to what would fit for Maryland. And we didn't start with the price tag. We started with how can we transform our schools. And as someone who's served on and has been in education for 40 years I believe it's transformational, Kojo. I think it will be the envy of the nation and I think many of the states will be looking to us, because of how comprehensive it is.
NNAMDIYou've certainly been in education for the 40 or more years that I have known you. How has Democratic Party leadership received the recommendations, Paul?
PINSKYVery supportive, obviously we're going to be reviewing it. Making some changes to it. We want to allow amendments in all 47 centers and my chamber to have a part in it. Obviously the policy is one piece of the stool. Another part is funding it. So there are parallel discussions going on after raising the revenue we need to make this real. We can't do it on the cheap. And it really is changing how we do business when it comes to schools in the state. From Pre-K to improving teacher quality to having supports for students coming from challenging situations to a heavy dose of accountability. So we don't think there's one part that can move ahead by itself. But that is -- it's a whole framework that has to move ahead together.
NNAMDIRene called to say, "As a retired teacher I am wary of any kind conversation about funding because when school systems don't know what funds and how much they can count on, they don't hire new teachers. And to address class sizes they put the money toward splashy programs. Lowering class sizes is the best thing we can do to improve the quality of education," to which Cheryl Bost you say what?
BOSTI say that the commission really did look at adding -- they're calling for adding I think 11,000 to 15,000 new educators to our ranks. Especially in the primary grades where we can provide tutors and additional support, because we know if we give them the foundation -- a fourth and fifth grade teacher myself I know when we reach them in the primary grades we can really help them catch up and be on track as they continue to grow. One of the things that Paul touched on was the accountability system within the blueprint. And it really is making sure that the money does get to the schools and to the services that they need. And not splashy programs as your caller stated.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Steve Hershey. He is a Republican Maryland Senator representing District 36, which includes Queen Anne's, Kent, Caroline, and Cecil Counties. He's the Senate Minority. Senator Hershey, thank you for joining us.
STEVE HERSHEYThanks for having me.
NNAMDIWhat are your biggest concerns about the Kirwan Commission's recommendations?
HERSHEYWell, I'd say to start off with what we just heard about with that question was accountability. And one of the things that Ms. Boost fails to mention is that this policy actually increases class size. What this policy does and she mentioned had the need for having to hire between 11,000 and 15,000 more teachers is because this policy takes teachers out of the classrooms. And that's really unfortunate, because that's not what we're looking to do. We're looking for an education system that is based on output. And so when they mention that they want to follow the dollars that's all they're concerned about.
HERSHEYThey want to see that the dollars are going to specific programs, but they're not concerned about the accountability of the outcomes. And that's something that we've been pushing for. The governor has been pushing for. We want to assure the taxpayers that if they're putting this kind of money into a program like this that we are going to achieve the desired results.
NNAMDICan you explain why you say that these recommendations will push teachers out of the classroom?
HERSHEYWell, that's because that's what the recommendations do. They are going to a system that creates what they're calling a super teacher. Right now teachers are in the classrooms 90 percent of the times and collaborate 10 percent of the times. And this moves them into in the classroom 60 percent of the times and collaborating 40 percent of the time. And so that's what the big concern is that they move them out of the classes into collaborating time and then have to come back and hire all these new additional teachers to go back and backfill in the classrooms.
NNAMDICan you explain this collaboration issue, Cheryl Bost?
BOSTYes. So one of the things I think that the senator is talking about is in the bill is a career ladder. And so right now when teachers want to advance the only way that they can do that is to go into administration. And so the career ladder allows teachers to move up to become mentors of other teachers to help them stay in the profession, coaches. And then during that time they reduce their amount of teaching time and they're collaborating with other teachers. When we compare to other international colleagues and systems teachers are in front of students just slightly less time than we have here in the United States. So they can plan, build on professional topics and issues and mentor other teachers.
BOSTWhen we have 50 percent of our teachers leaving after three years that tells us that we have a problem of retaining those that we're attracting, and so this will help to use veteran educators who are professionals and in many cases have their National Board Certification and use them to help keep people in the classroom.
NNAMDISenator Pinsky, what are some of the other school systems that the commission looked at?
PINSKYWell, Massachusetts has been a leader. They went through a major transformation in the 1990s and early 2000s. In terms of outputs, which my colleague mentioned they have the highest what are called NAEP scores. They are the apples to apples national score cards to show who is getting the best results. And they are far ahead of almost every state in the country. We're about the middle of the pack in Maryland. So we looked at what Massachusetts did and we're taking their steps and going a few steps beyond. We want to make sure there's equity. They've had difficulty in closing the learning gap.
PINSKYBut we looked at the lesson they pursued and they set higher standards to become teachers. They set higher standards to graduate school to be college and career ready. So we're doing that and taking it beyond. We want to attract and retain the best and brightest. We want to have people who might now go into law or medicine or a CEO in the corporate sector to become teachers and stay teachers.
PINSKYWe want to pick from our best. You know, we want to make it more difficult to become teachers and then we want to pay them accordingly. And give them opportunities to be school leaders to be professional leaders in the classroom. We want them to have more time to collaborate with their colleagues, which doesn't happen now.
NNAMDIGo ahead please.
PINSKYWe're going to use a National Board Certification, which is the highest acknowledged certification in the country to make sure we have the best and brightest. So it's part of the transformation, Kojo. We can change curriculum. We can have Pre-K, but we have to have high quality people who are leading the schools and providing that information education.
NNAMDISenator Hershey, what amendments would you like to see added to the bill?
HERSHEYWell, we'd certainly like to see something that involved more wrap around services. One of the issues that we think again in trying to create these super teachers is they've asked these teachers to now all of a sudden become trained in how to handle difficult students or students that need additional needs. We believe that that should be handled through local Department of Health, through a fee for service type of a process where we can get healthcare professionals that are educated that understand how to deal with children that have issues and let that be done separately rather than the teachers.
HERSHEYI think that's one of the other things that we've talked about is the classroom environment. We haven't heard that from the previous two individuals that are speaking. But a lot of the problem why we're seeing teachers leave is because the classroom environments are somewhat out of control. Teachers are being threatened. They're being hit. The common core curriculum that they're being forced to teach is nothing like they've been educated to teach previously. And they simply don't want to teach in the Maryland public school system. That's why we're seeing teachers leaving.
HERSHEYAnd that's why the Teachers Union has been so involved in this Kirwan recommendations is because they have to figure out a way to keep teachers in Maryland. And their only solution has been to pay teachers more. And that's not what this system is supposed to be. We have seen through Thornton before that throwing money at a situation doesn't work. We need a system that is going to be based on the inputs that are put in from the teachers in the classroom and we achieve the desired outcomes.
NNAMDICheryl Bost. Then I got to go to break.
BOSTSure. The community school model that is heavily defined within the blueprint talks about providing exactly those services to our schools that are dealing with students in concentrated poverty, bringing the health services to the school and to the families so that we can deal with the trauma and the behaviors that these students are exhibiting and deal with the root causes. And that's really a key component of the blueprint for Maryland's future.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll talk about funding. If you have questions or comments give us a call 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Are you a Maryland resident, how would respond to possible tax increases to help fund education reform? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about Maryland's expansive education reform that's currently making its way through the state legislature. We're talking with Debbie Truong, WAMU's Education Reporter. Cheryl Bost is the President of Maryland State Education Association. Steve Hershey is a Republican Maryland Senator representing District 36. And Paul Pinsky is a Democratic Maryland Senator representing District 22. Paul Pinsky, one of the big issues that people are concerned about is funding. The commission included the amount of money that needs to spent, but didn't include where that money will come from. So how do you think it will be funded and what would you say to constituents, who say I don't want my taxes to be raised for this.
PINSKYGreat questions, Kojo. First of all, you know, there's a lot of money that will be needed in the second five years. So right now we're focused on the first five years. The presiding officers have said, we're going to hold off on income sales and property tax. So right now the legislature particularly the Budget and Tax Committee is looking at alternative methods raising the cigarette tax, closing corporate loopholes, combine reporting. We have large corporations that are paying zero taxes to the state. Taxing gambling and a digital downloads and a number of other things that won't fall disproportionately on poor and working people and middle income families. So that's being looked at at a parallel track.
PINSKYIn terms of the public, you know, I think it gets to the point of the social contract of people as a society being committed for the same common goals. And just as our grandparents paid for our parents and paid forward and our parents paid for us, I think there is some responsibility that we look at this as an investment.
PINSKYAnd our view is if we have better qualified graduates either for careers or college, they're going to have better paying jobs. They're going to expand the economy. They're going to fill the jobs that employers are saying, I can't fill right now. So this is something that I think is in the best interest of the private sector community as well as the public. I think we're all going to have to tighten our belt a little bit. But I think we have to start with those that have the ability to pay and have not been paying so far.
PINSKYSo I think if we can show to the public that we will transform our schools we will have graduates that are not going to be disruptive. You know, if you get to kids early and give them the skills before they enter school, give them any tutoring they need we think the disruption in the school to prison pipeline will go by the side and won't be a factor anymore. This is an investment in the long term. And we think people are willing to make it. We think we'll come up with solutions in the short term as I said closing corporate loopholes, taxing cigarettes and vaping and move in that direction.
NNAMDIWell, your County Executive in Prince George's County, Angela Alsobrooks, expressed concerns over the plans of affordability. The county would have to contribute $360 million more to education by 2030. How do you address those concerns?
PINSKYWell, first of all, the formal -- we want to make sure the local jurisdiction had skin in the game. It wasn't just a state project. And at the end of the day the state will pay 70 percent of the new money. The local jurisdiction will pay 30. Now so formulas were done based on wealth, based on number of students, students with disabilities, ability to pay, how much they paid in the past for education. Look, it does have a large price tag in out years to Prince George's and in fact, Baltimore City. We are hoping to reduce that liability over the course of the next 40 days and bring it into a better line.
PINSKYBut I think all jurisdictions are going to have to contribute some. They have local taxing authority. We want to make sure they do have skin in the game and have a commitment to this process. You know, a lot of people have said, yes, we support this. We support Kirwan. When it gets to the discussion of how we pay, people back off. We think it is going to improve the quality of life in our county and our state. We think we can make some adjustments to make it more affordable. But we really need to move forward, because the price of not doing anything is much more expensive.
NNAMDILet's talk with Mitch in College Park who doesn't seem to back off of a tax increase. Mitch or Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELHi. Good morning. And it's Michael so thank you very much. So looking at it from somebody who's expecting a family in the next couple of years, I look at it from the balance of yes that may increase the taxes for the area. But for our family's case, you know, we're looking at it that once our children get to school age if nothing really changes we may have to move out of the area anyway. Potentially to an area with higher taxes or higher home values. So it's the thing of like, yeah, it may be like that initial tax increase. But ultimately for us at least that may save us in the long run.
MICHAELEspecially because looking at other areas within the D.C. area, I mean, Virginia especially with Amazon, I mean, they're eating Maryland's lunch every day. You know, they're schools are great. They're able to do these things. So it's not necessarily even leveling it at the playing field of the world. It's even leveling it at the playing field of this area. And ultimately not having families decide either A, isn't Maryland no longer an option or B, you know, where else could we move.
NNAMDISo you'd rather pay higher taxes than move, but go ahead, please.
MICHAELYep, yep. So I'd rather pay higher taxes than move. But also, you know, looking at it from, you know, the school rebuilding program that's being paid for by the casino revenue, you know, it's one of those things of how to really tap into that. I heard a lot of criticism that surrounded that in which, you know, people say, yeah, you could build a great schools, physical actual schools, but it's no use if what's happening inside isn't really up to par. So it's really the challenge of how to really kind of help tap into that also and other revenue like that in order to help pay to make sure that we're having a balanced approach of good physical buildings, but also good schools for them to actually, you know, go and learn to.
NNAMDISenator Hershey, Michael seems to feel that if the schools are going to get better he doesn't mind paying higher taxes for that. He'd rather do that than move to Maryland. What would you say to Michael?
HERSHEYFirst of all, two different issues. When we're talking about school construction and the facilities themselves that's paid for separately outside of the Kirwan Commission. In fact, we just pushed through a piece of legislation that looks to put more money into the school rebuilding process, the Maryland Stadium Authority is going to handle that and be able to build schools all across the state. So that is a good thing that we're looking for.
HERSHEYSecond, with regards to the casino lockbox, that's tapped out already. We are using all that money that is coming in from the casinos to already fund education. There is no more that's going to be coming from that. In fact, we're going to be see a piece of legislation that tries to take some of the money in the out years to put that through to build a new Preakness, a Pimlico up in Baltimore. So that's another issue. But, you know, let me just say when we talk about a raise in taxes as Chairman Pinsky mentioned the state has looked at a number of different opportunities on where they can find money.
HERSHEYBut also keep in mind that counties have a very significant role in how much they have to fund. Counties have two ways to raise revenue, the piggyback income tax, which many counties have already maxed out at 3.2 percent and property taxes. That's it. So when you go back to the counties now and he mentioned Prince George's County or, Kojo, you mentioned Prince George's County, 70 percent of the people paying taxes in Prince George's County are not even sending their kids to school. Okay, 70 percent of the taxpayers are not sending their kids to school.
HERSHEYSo Kirwan is going to force that county to raise over $300 million and keep in mind this is on top of maintenance of effort increases that are already going on throughout the next 10 years. Baltimore City, right now, you mentioned that as well, an uncontrollable crime crisis up in Baltimore. A thousand shootings last year, 348 deaths and now we're having a bunch of educators say, you need to raise an additional $300 million to pay for increase teachers' salaries.
HERSHEYI mean, Kojo, we have to get our priorities straight down here in Annapolis. And certainly education is important, but at this magnitude of cost we have to find other solutions. And I think that we should have gone back. Kirwan should have gone back and looked at our system the way that it is and find the positives on that and expand on that. We heard the argument that's been made before about the economic benefit that we'll get as a result of this. Right now Maryland is already number two in the country behind Massachusetts for one of the highest educated workforces. So we have smart, talented people that are working in Maryland. We're not going to see that grow any further. So we have to be able to focus on the kids and what their outputs are when they get out of 12th grade.
NNAMDIAlmost out of time here, Senator Pinsky, but from what we've been hearing right now it seems like this is a partisan bill with Democrats largely in support, Republicans voicing concerns about funding. Are you hoping that this is something that will ultimately be passed with bipartisan support?
PINSKYWe would greatly appreciate that. We think schools and improving the quality of life and the economy of the state crosses a party line. So we hope Republicans and the governor get on board both through the policy and the funding. To do so, we do at our own peril. We have to invest in our future, our kids. And this really is transformational and will put Maryland truly at the head of the 50 states. So I thank you. I have to apologize. I have to excuse myself.
NNAMDIOkay. We're just about done here anyway. Except for -- and Senator Pinsky, thank you for joining us. Debbie Truong, what happens next? What will you be watching for as the legislation continues?
TRUONGSure. I think there are a couple of things to keep an eye on as this moves forward. The first as we've discussed is local buy in. You know, making sure that, you know, localities feel that they can afford to pay for this and also are willing to. And I think secondly, Republican Governor Larry Hogan has expressed doubts over this proposal. And he has, you know, questioned the price tag. He has not said to my recollection that he would veto it or he hasn't indicated in either direction if he would. But the House and Senate both have enough of a majority of Democrats to override the governor's veto if that does happen. And so, you know, I think it would be important to keep that in mind as this moves forward.
NNAMDICheryl Bost, the Maryland State Education Association is deeply invested in this. Are you hoping that it will receive bipartisan support?
BOSTWe're hoping. Senator Hershey himself voted for the blueprint beginning last year, which is carrying us through to this year. So we hope that he and others will see that our students are a priority in this climate. More so than even what we're looking at in crime in the governor's budget. We need to make an investment early and make sure that our students are successful to bring a great economy to our state.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Cheryl Bost, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDISenator Hershey, thank you for joining us.
HERSHEYThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIDebbie Truong, thank you.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break, when we come back, we'll find out what NASCAR is doing to bring more diversity to the professional auto racing scene. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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