Annapolis — Lawmakers inaugurated the opening of the 2020 Maryland General Assembly on Jan. 8 expressing sticker shock over the funding mandates in the Kirwan Commission recommendations that promise to transform education at a cost of $32 billion over the next decade.
The formula requires cost-sharing by the counties, and Baltimore City and Prince George’s County would each have to fund over $300 million annually–requiring property tax increases or cuts in public services that the jurisdictions are reluctant to support.
The annual cost is expected to reach about $4 billion a year, of which $1.2 billion is the cost-share to the counties.
And while legislators have promised to help Prince George’s and Baltimore City, no such overture was extended to rural counties of the Eastern Shore.
“The tax base just isn’t there,” said Del. Jay Jacobs, R-Kent.
Tiny Kent County, the smallest in the state, has seen stagnant population growth and declining school enrollment for decades, which three years ago forced the consolidation of five elementary schools into three.
Kent County would need to pay an additional $1 million annually through 2030–and it would have the same impact on Kent that Baltimore City and Prince George’s are facing, Jacobs said.
“For Kent County it’s a very expensive proposition,” Jacobs said. “[Kent] will have the highest cost of the counties in District 36…almost double the other counties I represent.”
Jacobs said the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan has already funded record spending on education, now at over $6 billion annually. He said the “Kirwan recommendations are Thornton on steroids.”
The 36th District consists of Caroline, Cecil, Kent, and Queen Anne’s counties.
The Kirwan formula requires a greater cost share for counties with a higher population of at-risk students.
“There are no two counties alike under Kirwan,” Jacobs said. He said the $9 million Kent will have to pay over the next decade is only matched with $2.5 million in state funding.
“Queen Anne’s County won’t have to pay anything,” Jacobs said.
Kent Commissioner Ron Fithian said the mandate would require property taxes increases of “nearly 40 percent.”
The sticker shock to Baltimore City and Prince George’s has moved the General Assembly to give the plan a haircut, said Senate Minority Whip Steve Hershey.
“The initial funding formulas came out and a lot of counties got hit very hard on the money they would have to raise to meet the Kirwan requirement,” Hershey, R-Queen Anne’s said. “The commissioners have told us that there’s no way they can come up with that kind of money.”
“Baltimore City and Prince George’s both got hit with over $300 million and they’ve said they can’t come up with the money either.”
Hershey said Prince George’s County would need to cut its police force to meet its funding mandate without raising taxes.
“There are some big jurisdictions out there that have said ‘no way, put on the brakes, we can’t afford this,’” he said.
He said it came as a relief that Senate President Bill Ferguson promised not to “raise the sales tax, property tax or income tax in order to fund this.”
“At the end of the day we’re going to get a phased-in Kirwan,” Hershey said. He said there will be a “three-year Kirwan” that will pass to address some of the major issues.
“But it’s not going to be anywhere near the bill that’s been talked about,” he said “It’s going to be a price tag that Maryland believes it can fund on its own.”