News that the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, better known as the Kirwan Commission, will delay issuing their long-awaited report on school funding until Spring 2018, was met with displeasure in Baltimore.  Mayor Catherine Pugh and local education interested parties were annoyed to learn the New Year will begin without recommended changes for the inadequately funded Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS).  

“The decision to delay the Kirwan Commission recommendations is disappointing to Baltimore City, however, we are grateful to the Kirwan Commission members for their hard work and we eagerly await a funding formula that is equitable and adequate for the students of Baltimore City and the State of Maryland,” Pugh told the AFRO.

The Commission was initially given a Dec. 2017 deadline by the Maryland General Assembly to recommend a new school funding formula for state lawmakers to consider when the 2018 Session convened in Annapolis this coming January.  The current state school funding formula was created in 2002 by the Thornton Commission. There is broad consensus that the formula no longer reflects the reality of many of Maryland’s school districts.

Brit Kirwan, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland (USM), and chair of the Kirwan Commission, said that while most members of the commission agree on education practices that need to be adopted throughout the state, such as universal Pre-k, more fairly distributed education funding, and changing teacher pay structure, the commission is not ready to recommend specific dollar amounts for these and other proposed educational policies.

“It will take more time to do our work completely and accurately,” Kirwan said to members of the commission during their recent November meeting.

While Pugh was diplomatic, others were more direct in expressing discontent with a delay that will impact Baltimore’s 83,000 public school students.   Kevin Griffin Moreno, director of community investment of the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF), said that it was time for the Kirwan Commission and the Maryland General Assembly to transcend a colorblind approach to public school funding and recognize specific needs facing distinct communities in Baltimore.  BCF has been a key advocate for state-funded universal pre-kindergarten.

“Maryland’s schools, and particularly Baltimore City schools, are not adequately funded. We urge all those working on the question of school funding to take a race-informed approach to this work; to look at race-disaggregated data and to listen to communities of color, “Moreno said. “But especially we remind our policy makers that this is an urgent need—our schools and our students can’t wait.”

Karen Webber, director of the Open Society Institute’s Education and Youth Development program and former executive director of BCPS’ Office of Student Support and Safety argued that many Baltimore City students live in conditions that necessitate more urgency on the part of the commission and State lawmakers.

“In Baltimore City particularly, we have a crisis in our murder rate right now. Students who live in neighborhoods where the murders are occurring bring that trauma into the classroom with them,” Webber said. Baltimore homicides are up 13 percent this year, with 309 being recorded as of Nov. 21.

“Our district has not been made whole in terms of its public funding formula. We need the extra that is commensurate with a population that has suffered vicarious and direct trauma. We don’t have time to waste. Yes, we want to get it right, but we need to get it right now,” she said.

The Kirwan Commission is set to expire on May 31, 2018.