The Kirwan Blueprint bill is continuing to move way too fast, this week through the Senate. There are still so many things that haven’t been vetted thoroughly. As we hear amendments and arguments in the committees, it’s pretty clear that it still needs more work. But legislators are determined to get this passed, before too many questions are asked, let alone answered.
Having attended several sessions this week, I will share my perspective on the process. As a reminder, this passed the House of Delegates last Friday after a “leadership chosen” package of 65 amendments was added to the bill. Amendments offered from the floor, mostly by Republicans were summarily defeated. This same progression played out in the Senate.
On Monday. Senator Pinsky had a walk-through of the Kirwan bill with members of the Education, Health and Environment committee (EHE) and some members of Budget and Tax (B&T), primarily to go through all the House amendments. Rachel Hise from Department of Legislative Services (DLS) was also there to explain the changes. It went on for three hours before announcing the procedure for the rest of the week. On Wednesday afternoon, 55 “leadership chosen” amendments were offered by Senator Pinsky and voted on before taking amendments from other EHE Senators, primarily Republicans. With one exception, they were all rejected on a pure party line vote. When writing these reports, typically I don’t talk about the politics of a piece of legislation, but this one is so partisan. Many of these common sense amendments that were offered were not given any consideration at all. Later that night, B&T went through a similar process.
Meanwhile, as I wrote last week, “until you account for many different factors, it would be unfair to classify a county wealthy, poor or somewhere in between. The true wealth of a county has very little to do with how many kids we educate and everything to do with the quality of jobs, incomes, and demographics of who we serve.” An amendment was being offered in the Senate to consider “median household income” and I placed it on the agenda for the Talbot County Council to discuss and send a letter of support. For some strange reason, there were members who resisted, though three of us voted to support the amendment. Our county and many others who also have median incomes far below the State average would benefit from such an amendment to the wealth formula and potentially receive millions more in State education aid. We have been asking for this “Fair Funding Formula” for many years, and this would truly help equalize all counties in the State.
On Friday, the full Senate was on the floor and before voting on other pieces of legislation, Senator Pinsky went through all of the Kirwan amendments. A full vote is expected on Saturday afternoon and undoubtedly the Senate will pass the bill. There are some differences between the House and Senate versions, which they will have to reconcile before the entire Education Blueprint bill can be approved by the legislature. After which, it will move on to Governor Hogan. If he vetoes the bill, expect that the super majority will override his veto before the end of session and it will become law.
Additionally, one of the major problems that has been identified by the counties are the budget requests by our local Boards of Education. In many cases, the BOE’s are asking for millions more than not only Maintenance of Effort (MOE), but also millions more than what we would be required to fund two or three years down the road as per the Kirwan formula. In Talbot County, the request is $46.5 million dollars, over $2 million above MOE and nearly as much as would be required in FY23. In Queen Anne’s County, the budget request is about $5 million more, close to Kirwan requirement in FY24. These requests are happening all over the State. This is where the formula falls apart. The counties have always known that Boards of Education will say they need more money than what is in the formula. We have been saying for years that there are categories in their budgets that Kirwan doesn’t include, such as salaries for non-teachers, other operations, health insurance and transportation.
But what also concerns me is in the pleas for additional money are items that are INCLUDED in the Kirwan formula. The Blueprint is a ten-year phase in and BOE’s want the money for those programs now. During my interactions this week in the hallways, while waiting around for hearings to begin, I mentioned this to a member of this group. I asked, where were the Boards of Education during the process, and in particular, during the public hearing last month? Why didn’t they testify that the billions in Kirwan money wasn’t enough? I was told that conversations were going on quietly but they were waiting until the bill had actually passed before they really voiced that concern. That is beyond disingenuous. Wait until it is law, then say they need more. There is no way for counties to deal with this massive (now even larger) increase that is not only the billions of dollars more in the formula, now we have to plan on even more funding.
Exactly how much are we supposed to raise taxes on our citizens? Those same citizens that are struggling. Those same citizens that need other county services, especially our roads and emergency services, that we can’t find the money to pay for. The State really needs to step up and figure out how to fund this increase themselves and not put this mandate on the local jurisdictions. Exactly when is enough, enough?
Laura Price is on the Board of Directors of MACo, Chair of Budget and Tax, Talbot’s legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.
Laura Price is 2nd Vice President on the Executive Board of Directors of MACo, Chair of Budget and Tax, Talbot’s legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.