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Kirwan Commission – Excellence in Maryland Education

Maryland Public Schools used to be ranked number 1 in the nation. As Maryland school ranking has slipped the Kirwan Commission was established to determine what is needed to make Maryland schools the best in the nation and fill the needs of all students. In this podcast we talk to The Maryland State Education Association president, Cheryl Bost about the Kirwan Commission and funding for Maryland Schools.

February 6, 2020: Sponsored by Annapolis Pediatrics

Welcome to Third Floor Views, where we at Chesapeake Family Life talk about health, education and living with kids. I’m your host, Janet Jefferson. This podcast episode is sponsored by Annapolis Pediatrics.

Today we’re talking about the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission. It’s been nicknamed after Dr. William Kirwan, the chair of the commission. Dr Kirwan was jointly appointed by Governor Hogan, the Senate President and the Maryland House Speaker to lead this commission in 2016 with the goal of reviewing and assessing school funding and accountability and how best to prepare K through 12 students to compete in the workforce and global economy.

Our guest today is Cheryl Bost, president of Maryland State Education Association. Cheryl has been an elementary school teacher in Baltimore County for over 20 years. She has been teacher of the year in Baltimore County, founded a summer camp for underprivileged youth and served in various leadership positions in Baltimore County’s Teacher Association as a Maryland education expert. Cheryl’s here to talk with us today about the Kirwan Commission and what it means for the future of Maryland education. So Cheryl, in layman’s terms, just for the average citizen and Maryland parent, what is the Kirwan commission?

Cheryl Bost:
The Kirwan commission is an exciting endeavor that we’re doing here in Maryland. So the commission, as you said, led by Brett Kirwan, who was the former Chancellor for the University of Maryland, pulled together about 25 commissioners that represented various stakeholders that was outlined in the law and as you said, it was a bipartisan law that was passed. And so those commissioners really took a comprehensive look at education here in Maryland. Not just a funding formula for how we’re going to fund schools, but instead what services are we providing, what are the needs of our students and our communities. The Commission really did a lot of outreach and had panelists come in and present to them. And then they also took an international look. How do we compare to top performing countries? Mostly they looked at Finland, Singapore, Shanghai, and some of the top performing international statistics and found that our schools are really not funded.

Cheryl Bost:
The first thing that they did was an adequacy study to see where are we in the funding levels for our students. And they discovered that, we’re nearly $3 billion under funded, and that was three years ago. That’s a lot, right? That’s a lot of money. That was probably a starting place to say, you know, we’re really at a deficit. And then they went out and said, okay, well if we were to provide additional funding, what would that look like in our schools? Because that’s really important. Some of the people who have said, “we just don’t want to put money in to our schools without knowing it’s going to go.” And the commission took a comprehensive look at that. So it really did look at our preK services that we’re providing and, and really want to expand that to a more of a universal type pre-K system.

Cheryl Bost:
We know that when our students get a better foundation, they’re read to, they have books available, they do better in school. As an elementary school teacher, I always knew in fourth grade, which of our students had had opportunities in pre K because they came to us better prepared and ready for learning and engaged in learning. It also looked at our college and career readiness. We’ve, come to focus mostly on college readiness for getting that. We have a whole career industry and many of our students want to go right into that career industry in the workforce as soon as they graduate. So it’s expanding career technology opportunities as a main focus of of the Kirwan commission so that students can get any type of certification, whether that’s HVAC, automotive, or even healthcare industry, cyber security. It’s a very large range of opportunities.

Cheryl Bost:
Then students can come out and really be on the way to those jobs. And we also looked at our underprivileged students, I’m talking about underprivileged students that are living in poverty, and they really took a look at concentrated poverty students who are clustered in communities and, how poverty impacts our students. The trauma that comes with that, the lack of services, the lack of healthcare. And really that is in every district in this state. Some people say, Oh, it’s not in my neighborhood or it’s not in my community. It really is in every County and jurisdiction here in the state of Maryland. And so one of the big proposals are community schools and the community school model. They do a needs assessment of the community and the parents. The staff looks at what that school needs and then they design the services based on the needs of the schools.

Cheryl Bost:
So if many of the students are chronically absent because they’re home sick or they have an earache, we can put the services for a wellness center right there on site so students never have to leave the school building to get maybe their ear looked at or glasses or you know, any type of other evaluation. I had the privilege of working at Mars Estates elementary school in Essex and we were a community school before it was titled community school and we did a needs assessment. We went to the churches everywhere. We asked people, what do you want for your school that is servicing the students that you send us each day? And we were able to add a social worker so that parents could access services, a reading specialist to help our students who were behind. We even asked for training for ourselves as educators. As a fourth grade teacher, I was teaching phonics more than I ever thought I would ever teach phonics. So I wanted to beef up my ability. So it really takes a look at everything. So the Kirwan commission did all of that and then they decided, okay, how can we fund this? And they looked at what would be needed to be changed in the funding formula. And now it’s in the legislature’s hands. And we’re really excited because we’re almost at the finish line where we can say we’re going to provide a better education for the students here in Maryland.

Janet Jefferson:
Well that sounds really exciting. So what I hear is what the Kirwan commission found was that we really should implement universal pre-K. What does that actually look like? Is that pre K three and pre K four just pre K four? Is that open to all kids in Maryland? Would it be mandatory like elementary school or is it more optional?

Cheryl Bost:
It would be more optional. So it’s not looking at mandating pre-K, but it’s saying that we’re going to provide more classes of preK services at the three and four year level, year old, but mostly at the four. But it’s going to also be a partnership between private providers and public providers because we just don’t have the capacity right now in the public school system, but it’s saying ‘here will be the requirements to be a certified private provider.’ So it’s not just anybody. We are looking for our quality pre-K experience and it’s opening it up, making them more available. We have such limited pre-K classes right now in our public schools, so we want to expand that and that’s why it’s going to be a partnership between the private and public schools and how can we make it in every school, and make more slots available for all of our students.

Janet Jefferson:
And then I also hear a big part of it is potential job training for students who are interested in moving straight into career after high school. And would that also be available to anyone who was interested?

Cheryl Bost:
The commission is looking at right now, it depends on maybe where was the zip code and where you live as to what the opportunities are for you. So if you happen to live near a school or a magnet program that offers that, then you’re lucky you get that. But if you don’t, then you don’t have that opportunity. I know in a neighboring County to mine, Hartford County, when they’ve been looking at budget cuts, they’ve decreased the seats in their career technology education. And what we’re saying is, especially with the debt that their students are coming out of college with, are not really sure what they want to get into. Lets give them some job training and some of the students just really thrive on that. And so this will make it more accessible. So making those opportunities more accessible and not dependent upon the zip code in which you come from.

Janet Jefferson:
I also hear putting more money into areas where there’s high poverty, so making sure that those schools are getting the funding that they need so then they can offer the programs and the services that those students need to be better supported.

Cheryl Bost:
Absolutely. Our students who are struggling, maybe it’s mobility, they’re moving from apartment complex to apartment complex. They’re not getting a full education. If they’re dealing with trauma, we’ve seen that, you know, the homicide rate go up in Baltimore city, we see students fear of deportation, just all kinds of trauma that are happening to our students. It’s not getting addressed. So the community schools will be, especially in the areas of concentrated poverty, to provide those services and bring them to the students and to the families because we know it’s not just what we do in the classroom, it’s what happens at home. That also has an impact on the success of a student in their education. But in addition, it will look across the state and if we can provide additional tutoring for students, because many students get identified for special education.

Cheryl Bost:
And we know how costly that is, but they maybe don’t have a learning disability. They’re just behind. We know that light bulb goes off at different times. And so this way we can provide some tutoring and maybe after school programs at a variety of schools to get students to where they need to be and not identified as special education or continue to fall behind. That’s catch them up early in the early grades so that then they can be successful.

So when you look at the Kirwan commission, they really did look throughout the facet of pre K through 12 and then another key piece of this is we need the people in front of our students who are qualified in the best and brightest in the profession. And we’re not doing that right now here in Maryland. Right now, 50% of our teachers leave after year three. That’s a high turnover rate. 50% of them are working a second job.

Cheryl Bost:
So they’re not seeing this as a career. And so their focus isn’t completely on teaching where we want it to be. It’s maybe how they can make the mortgage, how they can pay their bills. And we’re not talking about just summer work, we’re talking about all year round, waitressing, Uber driving, everything just to make ends meet. And we want to make this a profession that is revered and respected as they compared it to Finland and Singapore and Shanghai. It really was a respected profession and you could get the folks in who graduated at the top of their classes. So the goal was to have a starting salary of $60,000 here in the state of Maryland to get to that point over this phase-in period and, and work on our certification and work on the support that we provide.

Cheryl Bost:
And some of that will be additional school counselors, additional school psychologists because right now teachers are everything. And, A, we’re not trained in it. As a teacher myself, I’m not trained to be a therapist or psychologist. I can build a relationship with students and, and really talk to them, but then I need somebody who has that mental health education or support to really deal with maybe some of the things that our students are coming to school with. So we want to make sure that our teachers are paid, they have the best working conditions—because our working conditions, our students’ learning conditions. And right now we have too many vacancies in our classrooms that are being filled with longterm substitutes and our students aren’t getting the best education.

Janet Jefferson:
Well, teacher salary is definitely a hot topic around the country right now. And we’re hearing about walkouts are protesting around the country. How does Maryland stack up to other states?

Cheryl Bost:
So we are not ranked very well. I don’t know our exact ranking, but I know in comparative to like accountants and CPAs, we make 85 cents on the dollar here. And I think for a long time people looked at it, it’s a female dominated workforce. Well, this is equality in pay more for women. We also want to attract more men to the profession and we want to attract more of a diverse teaching population. We do believe that when students see people in front of them that look like them, that that makes their academic success even better. So we have to attract a lot of folks here. And you know, another part of this study is that around 94% of our educators put a lot of money into their classrooms each year.

Cheryl Bost:
So I’m not getting paid as much. I’m putting money into my classroom. It isn’t an attractive profession for our kids in high school and our kids in college. So we see the pipeline of teachers drawing up. When we look at our teacher prep colleges, we get a lot of our folks from out of state, over 50% come from out of state. So our Maryland colleges don’t even prepare enough teachers to fill our slots. So we want to improve that. We want to work with our HBCUs to really build on our diversity within our teaching force. So there’s a lot of work that we can can do and a lot of areas of growth. And the commission does touch on all of that.

Janet Jefferson:
That’s awesome and exciting, especially as a local parent who is about to put my own children into the system, thinking about what is the best school and I want to put my kids in public school and have them in a diverse area with diverse kids and diverse teachers. That’s really important, and if we’re not doing that right now, then then I want to know how are we going to get there. So, you said we were underfunded and by about $3 billion, which is a huge, huge chunk of money. So is it possible for us to be able to support this cost of this commission? When the commission looked at the finances, where did they suggest the money come from?

Cheryl Bost:
Right, so when the commission first looked, it was a $3 billion inadequate funding, and we were behind with all of the programs and how we would have built up the school. We’re now looking at an additional, annual four point $4 billion investment by the time we get 10 years out because this is a phase-in of the funding and programming. And so we already have the first three years paid for. Last year, the Maryland general assembly passed the blueprint for Maryland’s future, a kind of part one, which gave us a jumpstart into getting this funded. It provided additional teachers salaries, expanded some of that pre-K programs. And so now as we look at the ten years, it really is doable. One, we have the first part funded. Secondly, a couple of years ago, Marylanders passed the Question One, which was Fix the Fund, which made sure that casino revenue dollars went to additional education funding and it wasn’t able to be supplanted somewhere else in the budget.

Cheryl Bost: (15:10):
So that’s a large infusion. It will go up to about $500 million as we get that completely phased in. We also see that the legislature is looking at possibly some digital fees and things like that. But really it’s going to be an investment in the workforce, which will pay for itself. The Baltimore Sun recently did a study on our return on investment and says that 70% of the Kirwan commission funding formulas will be paid through increased growth of students into the workforce. So they will pay additional taxes, they will be working, you know, all of that will come back to help pay for the Kirwan commission. So our legislators are now rolling up their sleeves and they’re looking at how can this be funded. Two thirds of the recommendations will be funded by the state. A third will be, we will be looking to the counties to figure out how they can infuse and make it an investment in our students.

Cheryl Bost:
Again, that’s a phase-in over 10 years to ramp up that annual funding. But I think, you know, as you said, you want to bring your students into the schools. You want to walk into a school and see that it’s, it’s ready for the next generation. Our students are may facing careers and dealing with technology that we don’t even know about. It’s kind of like the Jetsons theory. I’m dating myself in that, but we’re looking ahead and I believe in Marylanders are willing to put more money into public education. Polling across this state is that people are willing to invest in education and now the legislature has the ability to do that. That’s exciting. It is exciting.

Janet Jefferson:
Okay. Let’s take a quick break to hear about our sponsors.

Donna Jefferson:
Thank you to our sponsor, Annapolis pediatrics. I’m done a Jefferson, the creator and CEO of Chesapeake family life and I’m happy to tell you that I’m a former patient of dr Briscoe, the founder of Annapolis pediatrics. And both of my kids were seen throughout their childhood by the excellent staff at Annapolis pediatrics, which started in 1948 they see infants, children, adolescents, and young adults in five locations, Annapolis Croft in Edgewater. So Verna parking can Island. And I can tell you from experience that they care as much about the wellbeing of your entire family, including frazzled moms and dads as they do about your children. They’re there when you need them. 24 seven you can find them online@annapolispediatrics.com.

Janet Jefferson:
Welcome back. We are here with Cheryl Bost, president of Maryland state education association, and we’re talking about the Kirwan commission and the future of Maryland education. So we were talking a little bit about what the current commission is and how much it’s going to cost. How does the Kirwan commission compare to the last time we looked at education in Maryland, which was the Thornton formula in 2002, right? So how does this compare to the Thornton formula?

Cheryl Bost:
Well, there’s a couple of ways I think that you have to look at this. One is what has changed in almost 20 years. What has changed in Maryland and Maryland? What has changed in our education system? So we have more students living in poverty. We have more students where English is their second language. We have more technology demands. We have all have cell phones now and everybody’s using the technology. We have greater career STEM education demands. So we have more demands that have been placed on our schools. And those funding formulas that were set back with the Thornton commission have not changed. So even when the governor says, Oh, I have funded education more than ever before. Yes, but it’s an old formula and it’s taking into account increased student enrollment and increased inflation. But a lot has changed now.

Cheryl Bost:
The commission didn’t just look at funding. The Thornton commission pretty much said, are we adequately funding. The Kirwan commission, as we said earlier, really looked at what kind of education are we providing? And they really dug into more of the programming of education. Do we want more pre K? How do we gonna catch students up in our early grades? How are we going to offer students not only a college path, but a career path? How are we going to attract and retain quality educators? They looked at all of those aspects and then they came up with what they thought the funding formula should be to meet those needs. So it really was to look at how we’re delivering education, how do we want to deliver education as we build towards, a future generation and then what’s it going to cost to get there. Which was a different dynamic that we did when we did the Thornton commission.

Janet Jefferson:
The numbers also show that Maryland used to be one of the top ranked education systems in the country and we have dropped, so clearly there some things that aren’t working as well as they should be or at least we’d want them to be. And it sounds like the current commission will address some of those and try to get our system back up to where we want it to be as Marylanders.

Cheryl Bost:
Yes, we were number one I think for four or five years when we looked at different studies, and we’ve dropped down to I think five or six in some of the rankings and that’s not where we want to be. Right. We know we have some great schools and we have great education, but we know we can do better. And for some of our students, we have to do a lot better. I can you as a teacher, when class sizes continue to increase, it’s harder for me to reach every child, right? When I have students who have outside needs, I can’t do all of that in a classroom. I need the additional support services of a school social worker or a nurse or, you know, psychologist. So we see the needs have definitely increased and we have to then address what what we have in front of us. And as parents bring their kids to school, they wanted their kids to get attention. So they want to see smaller class sizes. They want to know that their teacher’s, you know, the best that they can have. So all of these things fit into what makes this a little bit different.

Janet Jefferson:
As a parent and as a voter, what is the most important thing for people to know about the Kirwan commission?

Cheryl Bost:
I think everyone needs to know that this is an investment in our children. This is really a time where we’re saying our children are the most important. To, one, to educate them, but, two, to build on our economy. When we see our students succeeding and they can take jobs that helps with property value, that helps with the continuation of a strong state economy. And so this is our time that we can say ‘our students are important.’ They are the most important thing that we’re going to make an investment in this year and we’re going to make sure that everyone is held accountable. There’s a large accountability piece in the Kirwan commission to make sure that that money really does get to the students and get to the classrooms. And so all of these put together, the initiatives plus the accountability piece, will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity that we have to say ‘our students and our future economy is the most important thing that we’re going to look at.’

Janet Jefferson:
As a parent, that sounds great. So who is right now supporting this and who are the critics and why?

Cheryl Bost:
Really, across the state, there’s very few critics that we’ve seen. Everyone sees that our students are important. We’ve, we’ve gone around the state with a coalition of partners holding community forums, really educating people as to what the Kirwan commission is. Beause they hear Kirwan and they’re like, what’s that? But then when they hear, ‘Oh it’s career technology, it’s pre-K,’ they’re like, ‘Oh, I like those things.’ So making it into readable and understandable pieces, when you do that, people are supportive. And as I’ve said, we’ve done polling and people are supportive of investing in education. Unfortunately, the governor has come out against the Kirwan initiatives that he’s either been raised money against the Kirwan initiatives, but we’re really hoping within the rest of the session that he can see the importance of investing in students. The legislature has already said that the bill to learn to put money into our school construction is House Bill One.

Cheryl Bost:
They’ve talked about the Kirwan recommendations and the funding formula that’s needed will be House Bill Two. So they’re looking to make this a top priority as we move forward and making sure that we can fund it and phase it in. We need counties to do the same. I know some counties are a little apprehensive, but I think when they look at their investment comes later in the phase-in and they have time to figure out in their County how they can make a true investment in education. We are working with them. We know our local organizations are working with them. It really is a commitment and an investment into our future. It’s not something that we just say, ‘Oh, we’re going to pay for this.’ No, we’re invested in this.

Janet Jefferson:
What are some common misconceptions about Kirwan? Is there anything that you feel like this is a great platform to clear up and sort of educate our, our citizens?

Cheryl Bost:
Well, I think one thing that has been portrayed, mostly by the governor, is that it’s a tax hike commission. That is not true. There were no taxes recommended by the Kirwan commission. In fact, the Kirwan commission was not charged with coming up with where the funding was going to come from. That’s the legislature and the governor’s responsibility. They were to come up with the plan. They did exactly that. I think another misconception is that this money is going to go to Baltimore city or some jurisdictions that’s not my own. That’s not true. The money is going to go to every jurisdiction, every student here in the state of Maryland. As I said, everyone has areas of concentrated poverty.

Cheryl Bost:
So that’s going, everybody has the need for more career technology, education opportunities, every district. So it’s not just single districts that it’s going to go to. And the last one is some people say, ‘Well, we’re just going to put that money into education. They use the frame, you know, good money after bad. That’s not true. A large part is the accountability piece to make sure that it’s really going to where it is supposed to go. And if it’s not, there is an extra body that can say you’re not going to get all the money right now until you do make a commitment to do whatever policy item. So those are some of the misconceptions, but there’s really been a false narrative that some people have portrayed and we want to be a MythBusters and make sure people have the truth and can really see the insights that the commission took a well rounded look at everything.

Janet Jefferson:
Definitely. Last question: What can parents or the average citizen do to help support Maryland education? Is there anything that we can do to promote Kirwan or get across the finish line? What do we do to make sure that our kids have have a positive future?

Cheryl Bost:
We definitely need parent involvement. We need every community member. One is to listen to informational pieces like this so that they can get an understanding. We have information from a coalition on Marylandblueprint.org where folks can get information, but then they can also then contact their legislature, their Senator and their delegates and encourage them. Ask them to invest in our children and pass the bills that will match up with Kirwan, talk to their County councils, County commissioners, County executives because it is a shared partnership. Again, Marylandblueprint.org can help them get the information and the talking points that they might need to do that.

Cheryl Bost:
Come down to Annapolis, come down and meet with your elected officials and tell them that you want to see an investment made in public education here in the state of Maryland or meet with them back in the district. Email, meet. All of those things are important because we have to have a voice throughout the year, not just on election day. We need to hold our elected officials to what they’ve promised and to hear from us as citizens. I think the other thing that happens all year round, and maybe it doesn’t happen enough, is for parents to get involved in their schools. Parent engagement is critical to the success of our schools. So yes, we have this time where we want the Kirwan to pass, but as a teacher I want parents engaged in what’s happening. I don’t want them just to drop their students off at the door and say, see you later.

Cheryl Bost:
I want them to ask, I want you to get involved in your neighborhood school and actually see what’s missing so that you can speak and tell your story to legislators and say, you know, my school really could use, you know, an additional staff person or my school doesn’t have the same opportunities as the school down the street. So all of those are important outreach opportunities that parents, citizens, grandparents, everybody can do to make sure that this gets past the finish line and, and really be willing to say, ‘Yes, I’m willing to make an investment.’.

Janet Jefferson:
So the vote, any best guess on when that might occur and when people should contact their representatives?

Cheryl Bost:
So contacting them now is great. The bill hasn’t dropped yet. We’re expecting it within the next week or so. So we’ll have the details in the bill. Everything has to pass to be passed before, like the first week in April.

Cheryl Bost:
The beginning of April is the absolute dead finish line on the general assembly. But we’re hoping to get it through in March. We want to get this bill through the general assembly, get all the questions answered and make sure that it gets to the governor’s desk. And I would encourage people to call the governor. Okay. Ask the governor to sign this bill. If he signs this bill, as soon as it comes out, then we can get to work and we can get this started and implemented. So any calls and outreach to the governor are encouraged as well.

Janet Jefferson:
Alright, so this is an urgent issue. Well, thank you so much Cheryl, for talking to us today and thank you to Annapolis pediatrics for sponsoring this episode of Third Floor Views.

We love to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you enjoyed what you heard today, check out more at thirdfloorviews.com. I’m Janet Jefferson. This is Third Floor Views. Thank you for listening.

Visit this podcast sponsor Annapolis Pediatrics at https://annapolispediatrics.com/ for more information on the practice, providers, free events, and resources.

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