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Kirwan: A once in a generation opportunity for our public schools

By Corey Gaber

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: For as long as Baltimore City Public Schools have existed, they have been underfunded by the state of Maryland according to the state’s own definition of adequate funding, as mandated by the courts and constitution, studied and verified by multiple independent consulting research firms, and codified into law by the legislature. The difference between what the state should have been funding BCPSS, and how much they actually spent in 2017 (the last time the Department of Legislative Services studied the “Adequacy Gap”) was $342 million! Furthermore, were we to add up not just a single year’s deficit, but instead cumulative educational debt accrued over the past two decades, then the state would be short at least $3.2 BILLION compared to what their own definition of adequate funding demanded.

This underfunding isn’t just a Baltimore City problem, as 20 of the 24 counties in the state are underfunded, and the current formula is regressive and racist, with richer districts on average receiving 6% more funding ($800 per pupil) than poor districts, and analysis shows the higher concentration of black children in a district, the larger the adequacy gap. BTU members can feel the impact of this historical underfunding every day in our inhumane facilities, with blooming class sizes, inadequate materials and technology, and insufficient staff and counselors in order to meet students needs.

In 2016 a commission was formed by the legislature in order to study Maryland’s current funding formula and make recommendations for what would make the state’s schools world class. This commission was headed by Brit Kirwan, Chancellor Emeritus of the University System of Maryland, and thus became known as the “Kirwan Commission.” Baltimore City teacher and BTU Member Morgan Showalter sat on the Commission and was part of the process for creating a set of recommendations.


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The Commission issued a 200+ page report in 2019, recommending a series of reforms organized into 5 major policy areas.

    1. Full day Pre-K for 3 & 4 year olds below 300% of the federal poverty level with a sliding scale for 4 year olds from families up to 600% of the federal poverty level
    2. Increase the capacity of providers through quality standard incentives and technical assistance
    1. Teacher preparation and certification, require cultural competence, bias awareness, and restorative justice training
    2. Create a statewide career ladder to move into administration or leadership positions
    3. Create higher salaries that benchmark against other professions requiring similar degrees
    1. Offer new tutoring and other support services to keep kids on track to meet college and career ready standards by 10th grade
    2. More opportunities for students by providing advanced placement (AP), early college, and rigorous 21st century CTE pathways in 11th and 12th grade in all school districts
    1. A new concentrated poverty weight will be added to the funding formula to provide intensive services for students and their families to enable them to succeed in school
    2. Increase funding for students with disabilities and English Language Learners
    3. Offer transitional supplemental instruction focused on grades K-3
    1. Establish a new Inspector General to help make sure these new investments are not susceptible to waste, fraud, and abuse
    2. An oversight board will ensure that dollars are reaching the students, classrooms, and programs that will make the biggest difference for education outcomes.

Altogether, these reforms–once fully implemented–would represent an additional $4 billion of investment, split between the state and local jurisdiction into Maryland’s public schools. It is truly a once in a generation opportunity to finally get the resources our students deserve.



$4 billion is a lot of money, and the current governor has put out a lot of false and misleading statements about what this new revenue could mean for Maryland taxpayers. He has even raised $2 million in dark money to fund an advertisement campaign aimed at defeating the Kirwan recommendations. The bottom line is we can afford this by closing tax loopholes, ending giveaways to large corporations, and having the super-rich pay their fair share of state income taxes. The Sage Policy Group conducted an assessment of the economic and fiscal impact of implementing the Kirwan recommendations, and concluded the following:

  • Under the status quo, an average cohort of Maryland public school students (about 69,000 students) could be expected to pay $8.9 billion in state and local taxes over a lifetime. Given improved educational outcomes and attainment, this same group would pay an estimated $12.5 billion state and local taxes. This is a net gain of $3.6 billion.

  • Annual fiscal benefits first exceed the annual costs of Commission recommendations as early as FY2034.

  • By FY2046, Maryland will have more than fully recovered its investment in public education reform.

Even if you didn’t believe that we had a moral obligation to provide young people with an excellent public education, we can’t afford NOT to make this investment based on the economic future of the state alone.


The recommendations offer an inspiring opportunity, but they are not perfect! Here are a few priority areas that BTU will be fighting to improve as the recommendations are translated into legislation to be voted on this session in Annapolis:

  1. BTU proposes that National Board Certification (NBC) be one of, but not the ONLY pathway to professional development and career advancement. The Commission is recommending that over the course of 10 years, each district will create a career ladder which would restrict salary increases and leadership advancements to teachers who have achieved National Board Certification. This could exacerbate equity concerns by making Baltimore City a place where teachers are less likely to advance financially and in the career ladder, due to working in schools with concentrated poverty and trauma, and less support for navigating the NBC process. Additionally, NBC is overseen by Pearson, a private corporation with a dubious history, rather than by public universities with boards and accreditation accountability processes.

  2. BTU proposes the inclusion of a similar pay raise for PSRPs as is included for teachers. BTU leadership is working in coalition with MSEA, SEIU, AFSCME, and legislators to put forward a bill that would honor the many non-teachers who work in schools and make our children’s education possible. (Delegate Solomon is working on the legislation now; wait to push this issue until there is a bill number.)

  3. BTU proposes eliminating the state funding floors. As part of a political deal when passing the “Thornton” education funding formula in 2002, legislators compromised their commitment to racial equity in order to ensure elected officials from richer counties would vote in favor of the (at the time) new formula. Currently, state funding floor rules require the state to provide every district with at least 15% of foundation funding and 40% of compensatory education, special education, and limited English proficiency funding (even if a richer jurisdiction should be shouldering a higher share of the burden according to the formula). They are by nature inequitable, letting rich districts off the hook for paying their full equitable share and thereby reducing state funds available to invest in less wealthy districts and needier students.


Opportunities to seriously revise and improve the state’s education funding formula only come about once every 15-20 years, so we’re not exaggerating when we say that this is a once in a generation opportunity to get our students the resources they deserve. Legislators are translating the Kirwan recommendations into a bill, which will first go through the House of Delegates and then the State Senate. The legislative session runs from January 8 through April 6 and will be filled with opportunities to ensure that the best version of the recommendations are passed and are funded equitably. Passing Kirwan is far from a done deal and will require educating, advocating, and organizing from our membership in order to turn Commission recommendations into the law of the land. Please fill out the following survey to get connected with opportunities to:

  • PARTICIPATE IN A RALLY/DIRECT ACTION in Baltimore City/Annapolis
  • SPEAK DIRECTLY TO LEGISLATORS side by side with Prince George’s County educators at a joint BTU/PGCEA Lobby Night in Annapolis on 2/24
  • HOST A KIRWAN COMMUNITY MEETING at your School/PTO/Church/etc.: BTU representatives will come to educate and activate your peers on this important opportunity.
  • TESTIFY IN ANNAPOLIS: Are you interested in testifying at a committee hearing? We can help make that happen and even offer union leave
  • EMAIL/CALL MY ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES: We will provide you with the resources and tools necessary to effectively advocate for your needs and priorities.

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(Kirwan Commitment Form QR Code)