ANNAPOLIS – Since its inception in 2016, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education presented proposals to raise teacher salaries up to a minimum of $60,000 in six years, expand pre-k pre-kindergarten at no cost for low-income 3-year-old children and all 4-year-old children and other educational initiatives.
The group, also known as the Kirwan Commission, led by former University of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan, plans to complete a final report as early as Dec. 19. If agreed, a document would be distributed to state lawmakers to review and possibly pass into legislation when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 9.
“This can’t be a Santa Claus stocking-stuffer,” Kirwan said during a discussion Thursday, Nov. 29 on proposals to improve governance and accountability. “We just can’t talk this to stuff. We’ve got to get to some conclusion.”
Before Kirwan and others draft a final report, the commissioners heard from dozens of officials and representatives from state, county and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations who presented their views on how the state can enhance public education.
Some of the testimony inside a conference room at the House of Delegates building included a focus to recruit future teachers at HBCUs, more money for special needs students and assess racial inequity among Black and Latino students.
Justin Robinson, a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at Samuel P. Massie Academy in Forestville, emphasized providing funds for schools to stay above a certain poverty threshold, telling a short story about how his students lost a basketball game to a team that had more resources to practice and play.
“I’m just talking about a game, but in a few years my students will be adults,” he said. “I worry without equitable funding and wrap-around services, they won’t be able to compete with students blessed with rare opportunities … that [stability] provides.”
Henry R. Johnson, chief of staff for Montgomery County Superintendent Jack R. Smith, agreed with the commission’s proposals to expand early childhood education and incorporate more planning time for teachers. However, he offered a brief plea to allow local jurisdictions to maintain control.
“We implore the commission to consider the negative effect of unfunded mandates,” he said.
Prior to the public hearing, the commission reviewed a plan on governance and accountability that highlights a proposal to create an independent oversight board to provide comprehensive recommendations on how county and city school systems can improve.
Some commissioner members agreed with Johnson, especially since the independent body could withhold money if certain goals aren’t achieved. However, the state Department of Education would also have to agree on any proposed changes.
“I don’t see a lot of accountability to do much except to hold funds, which is basically what the state school board can do now,” said state Superintendent Karen Salmon, one of the 25 members on the commission. “There needs to be a lot more work done.”
State Sen. Steve Waugh, a Republican who represents Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, said there needs to be limits to empowering a separate agency.
“You can’t create a whole new government in here,” he said.
According to a 13-page draft, the body would comprise of seven members appointed by the governor with Senate confirmation.
Joy Schaefer, who serves on the commission, not only disagrees with the proposed independent body in having some authority, but said some members should have education experience.
“Unless you have done that in a real-world environment, you are lacking a really important and critical perspective,” said Schaefer, a member of the Frederick County school board.
Through further discussion on the topic, which went on for more than an hour, the commission agreed some members have knowledge of teaching in a classroom, but didn’t specify how many.
After more than 90 minutes of testimony, the Rev. Marlon B. Tilghman, pastor of Ames United Methodist Church in Harford County, offered a simple prayer for the commission.
“I’m going to pray you have a sound mind in the decisions you make,” he said. “Pray in any decisions you make [don’t negatively] affect our children. Give our children a stake in the United States.”