MACo Officials Discuss Kirwan Bill’s Education Impact

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County this month got a better understanding of legislation that would put more money into public education in the coming years.

On Tuesday, April 16, representatives with the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) presented the Wicomico County Council with an interim report on Senate Bill 1030, referred to as “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.”

The bill – passed by the General Assembly earlier this month – would pave the way for significant changes to the state’s education system.

In short, the bill is based off recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission) and designates more than $1.1 billion to education initiatives over the next three fiscal years.

Specifically, the money would fund special education services, mental health coordinators, full-day pre-kindergarten programs and grants for teacher salary increases, among other things. The bill also establishes an inspector general’s office to oversee education spending.

“All of these funding components in the bill passed this year are down payments toward the larger items the Kirwan Commission has in mind for basically the next decade in school funding,” Michael Sanderson, executive director of MACo, said. “What we are seeing is the beginning of this plan coming together.”

Kevin Kinnally, associate director of MACo, told the council state funds from casino revenues and online sales tax will fund the bill’s education initiatives in the coming year.

“For fiscal year 2020, this is all state money except for one catch that counties can volunteer to increase teacher salaries by 3% and get a match from the state,” he said. “It’s a lot of carrots and a little bit of stick for this year at least.”

Kinnally noted, however, that the commission has yet to make recommendations for how the state and county will split education costs over the next decade.

“Next year we expect there to be a much bigger bill with a lot more sticks and less carrots for counties,” he said, “less state funding where counties will be expected to chip in heavily.”

Sanderson speculated education costs could be split between the state and counties in the coming years, with a county’s share based on student population. For Wicomico County, he said that could equate to $2 million or $3 million in additional funding annually.

“If you want a number in your head for what the passage of a long-term Kirwan bill might look like for Wicomico County’s budget, I think that’s the framework to be thinking about …,” he said.

Sanderson added it remains unknown how the commission’s funding recommendations would impact the county’s maintenance of effort formula.

While counties with higher wealth indices could end up paying more to implement the commission’s recommendations, Councilman Marc Kilmer noted the impact it would also have on lower-wealth counties like Wicomico.

“We shouldn’t underestimate how hard it is for lower-wealth counties like Wicomico County to come up with even $2 million. We have ‘x’ amount of dollars and a limited tax base …,” he said. “This is looking very hard. Every dollar that has to be spent on the Kirwan Commission mandates is a dollar that’s going to be taken away from other areas of the budget.”

Representatives with MACo said they would keep the county up to date with any funding recommendations.

“What we’ve seen so far is just the beginning of some very large policy decisions that lie ahead,” Sanderson said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.