With the new school year in full swing, members of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence are back at work evaluating Maryland’s education system. Commonly called the Kirwan Commission (for its chair William “Brit” Kirwan, Chancellor Emeritus of the University System of Maryland), the Commission has spent the past year analyzing statewide K-12 public education. Per its authorization by HB 999 and SB 905, the Commission must report its findings and make policy recommendations to the Maryland General Assembly this December.
Fifteen years have passed since Maryland last convened a similar educational commission. The Thornton Commission, officially known as the Commission on Education, Finance, and Education, was convened in 1999 to examine Maryland’s educational infrastructure. In January 2002, the Committee ultimately concluded that an additional $1.1 billion should be allocated to Maryland education by fiscal 2007. To ensure continuity between the two groups, the Kirwan Commission is legally required to include the same educational consultants as the Thornton Commission.
A lot has changed since the Thornton Commission, particularly since the start of Governor Larry Hogan’s administration. Let’s take a look at some of the changes Governor Hogan has made to Maryland education since 2015:
2015: Hogan Cuts Maryland’s Education Budget
Hogan has exploited public education as a simple budget cut since the start of his administration. In 2015, Democrats in the General Assembly worked tirelessly to save Maryland public education from Hogan’s proposed $600 million in budget cuts, including a $144 million cut to public schools. Hogan ultimately put $68 million specifically set aside for education by the Maryland General Assembly into the state’s pension system instead. He blatantly ignored calls from then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to preserve the $68 million (including $11 million for Baltimore) for education as a critical measure to help Maryland move forward from the Baltimore riots after the death of Freddie Gray. Fast forward two years, and Maryland is now lacking in $2.9 billion in education funding needed to address pressing issues like overcrowding in classrooms, cuts to extracurricular activities, and limited resources for special education students.
2016: Hogan Shortens School Year to Detriment of Students
Thanks to Governor Larry Hogan, public school districts across the state were forced to begin the school year after the Labor Day holiday, whether they liked it or not. On August 31, 2016, Hogan bypassed the authority of the General Assembly to issue an executive order requiring that all public Maryland K-12 schools start after Labor Day. He blatantly disregarded the right of individual school districts to determine what start dates work best for their students. Of Maryland’s twenty-four counties, only one (Wicomico County, home to popular tourist destination Ocean City) opted to start the school year after Labor Day before Hogan’s executive order took effect this year.
While students might enjoy a few extra days of summer before heading back to school, a delayed school year only prolongs the loss of learning that students experience over summer break. Hogan’s delayed school year puts low-income students at a particular disadvantage; an estimated eighty-four percent of students in Baltimore rely on their schools to provide them with subsidized meals during the school year.
2017: Hogan Vetoes Protect Our Schools Act
This past March, Hogan vetoed the Protect Our Schools Act, which created a mechanism for Maryland to identify and improve low-performing public schools in compliance with federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). When the Maryland General Assembly overrode his veto, Hogan’s response was to complain to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Instead of working with students and their families to hold public schools accountable, Hogan sides with DeVos’ dangerous anti-public school agenda built on exclusive private school vouchers and unaccountable charter schools. Under Hogan, private school vouchers intended to help students in underperforming public schools have essentially become publicly funded subsidies for students already enrolled in private schools. Like DeVos, Hogan is also a proponent of charter schools, which allow unaccountable for-profit companies to run schools that strip resources from public education.
Larry Hogan has changed Maryland education, and not for the better. The Kirwan Commission has the potential to hold the Hogan administration accountable to its responsibility to make sure that all Maryland students receive a quality education. Learn more about how to make your voice heard at one of the Commission’s public hearings here.
Maryland’s children are the future. Let’s invest in them accordingly.