The long-anticipated Kirwan Commission is having its first and only hearing this legislative session in Annapolis on Monday, and St. Mary’s school board members now are not sure what to expect after reading the bill.
Cathy Allen, vice chair of the school board, said at a school board meeting Wednesday in Leonardtown the bill was filled with “mind-numbing formulas” and called it “172 pages of hot mess.”
The Kirwan Commission is an initiative to give billions of dollars to Maryland’s public schools. The bill to support it, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, will allocate that money to school systems over the next 10 years. The money is meant to expand education programs, provide more resources for low-income and special education students, increase teacher pay, hire more educators and more.
Allen expressed concern for the state to hold only one meeting for a bill this complex. She said it will be a joint hearing and testimony will be limited.
“I just have this sense that there are forces that are seeking to really just ramrod this through without giving people an opportunity to really parse it and determine where, perhaps, improvements can be made,” she said.
She said she’s not sure if the people who wrote it knew exactly what they were talking about.
Superintendent Scott Smith said he will be at the hearing on Presidents Day. He said there are a lot of things in the bill that would change the way they hire, retain and promote staff. He said there were also rumors about some funding being withheld.
“Whenever anybody tries to rush you to a decision, that’s when we should be the most cautious,” he said.
Allen told Scott Szczerbiak, the school system’s director of special education who was sitting in the audience, to pay particular attention to the special education portion of the hearing.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has opposed the Kirwan Commission, introduced a few education reform bills of his own. Senate Bill 275, that will define any school that receives a one-star rating for two years will require the local school board to develop an innovation plan. And Senate Bill 267 would require the state board to give fee assistance to students from low-income households looking to take Advanced Placement tests.
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future hearing will be held in the joint hearing room in the state’s Department of Legislative Services building at noon on Monday. The Maryland State Education Association, or MSEA, is hosting a “pep rally” before the hearing starts in the state capital beforehand featuring Brit Kirwan, the chair of the Kirwan Commission, as a speaker, as well as Cheryl Bost, president of MSEA.