Kirwan Chairman to speak in Salisbury on Tuesday

Dr. William Kirwan discusses school improvements last winter with Strong Schools Maryland representatives in Annapolis. (CNS Photo.)

The leader at the center of a controversial effort to improve state public education – and find ways to pay for such improvements – will be in Salisbury on Tuesday to discuss the initiative.

Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan, Chairman of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, will address a community forum at Wor-Wic Community College.

The panel is popularly referred to as the Kirwan Commission. A former Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, Kirwan is expected to outline possible education policies and funding reform affecting Maryland schools.

The Maryland General Assembly and Gov. Larry Hogan established the commission to recommend any changes needed for the current public education funding formulas, which are considered to be outdated.

In addition, Kirwan’s group is tasked with making policy recommendations that will enable Maryland’s K-12 public schools to perform at a level that would make it one of the best in the world.

The commission has been at work for nearly three years. While skeptics seem to embrace goals to improve education, questions have been raised about the funding formulas and what the impact would be on county budgets, as well as Maryland’s overall spending goals.

Kirwan has said many times that his panel is still immersed in the funding formulas calculations. He has been criticized for holding many of the discussions behind closed doors, so as not to excite opposition.

“We will be putting models out there to see how the formulas would work,” Kirwan said recently. “I personally think it would be a disservice to the public to see numbers that will have no real meaning. It would be very confusing. … People will get all excited or upset over information that will never come to be.”

Kirwan has insisted that all decisions on the spending formulas will be made in public.

Kirwan will speak at Wor-Wic’s Guerrieri Hall Auditorium from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The event is being sponsored by the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, Greater Salisbury Committee, Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, Salisbury University, Somerset County Public Schools, Wicomico County Public Schools, Wor-Wic Community College and Worcester County Public Schools.

The Kirwan Commission made headlines last week when a statewide poll showed most Marylanders support paying more in taxes to support public schools, but hardly anyone has ever heard of the panel and its efforts.

The commission presented an initial report to state legislators in January, calling for lawmakers to raise funding by 30 percent over the next decade. The cash would be used to expand access to public pre-kindergarten classes, raise teacher salaries, add resources to the schools most in need and finance other priorities.

Hogan quickly objected to the funding proposals, calling them “half baked” and “fiscally irresponsible.”

Delegates and senators are now expecting a clash between Hogan and supporters of comprehensive education reform – and they will have to declare their own opinions.

A final cost is expected the week of Oct. 13, but the total figure has thus far been pegged at about $3.8 billion annually when phased in after 10 years.

The work group is tasked with creating formulas to determine how much individual counties will pay and how much the state will pay. It will not recommend specific ways to raise revenue.

According to published reports, the Maryland State Education Association – the teachers’ union, which led all lobbying efforts in Annapolis in the 2019 General Assembly session in spending $784,000 to support increasing funding for education – has said it will run $500,000 in television ads to support public schools funding.

A poll that Goucher College’s Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center released late in September found 74 percent of Marylanders supported paying more in taxes to improve public education, while 26 percent were opposed.

Kirwan is among the most distinguished educators in the nation. He retired as USM’s Chancellor in 2015, a position he held since 2002. Kirwan also served as President of the University of Maryland from 1989-1998, after teaching at the university for 34 years. He was President of the Ohio State University from 1998-2002.

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