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HYATTSVILLE — The Maryland General Assembly considered the first phase of funding for The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations last week which would increase funding for Maryland schools by over $1 billion over the next two fiscal years giving a significant portion to Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).
According to PGCPS Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton, The General Assembly approved a down payment for the first phase of the plan known as the Blueprint For Maryland’s Future. That includes $325 million for fiscal year 2020 and $750 million for fiscal year 2021.
“I am pleasantly encouraged by the allocation that the governor is putting on the table and the down payment that the General Assembly, which is different from what the governor is saying, that’s almost a billion dollars which is very encouraging,” Thornton said.
“I would want much of it to be driven through the Thornton formula which is what I am most concerned about…It’s not so much the actual absolute amount as it is the formula that will drive the distribution of the amount. That’s what I’m most concerned about.”
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and the Kirwan Commission builds off of the Bridge To Excellence which Thornton spearheaded through his Thornton Commission in 2002 during one of his previous terms as Board of Education chair. Bridge To Excellence was passed successfully, and Thornton said that this new formula could be just as successful if it follows in the steps of its predecessor.
“I want the Blueprint For Maryland’s Future to build on Bridge To Excellence, or I want Kirwin to build on Thornton,” Thornton said. “And when I say build on it, the elements are there, we’ve just got to make sure they stay together because Thornton and Bridge To Excellence 2002 said we’re going to equalize funding for children and make sure that the funding available to them. It is not a function of the county in which they live and the zip code in which they live.”
The current recommendations of The Kirwan Commission, also known as The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, was introduced last year. The 25-member Kirwan Commission put forward a list of recommendations that will be implemented in steps over the next 10 years.
For the first two years, the formula will focus on increased teacher compensation, expansion of pre-k, especially for low-income students, special education and grants for schools with high poverty.
Although Thornton said he is encouraged by the support from the General Assembly, he said there are some concerns with the timeline of the project.
“There is a difference between happy and encouraged. I would have wanted the commission’s formula to be completed in December of last year being available for approval by the General Assembly right now with the formula driving the recommended spending amount…so I’m concerned about the delay and the incremental implementation.”
Despite this, Thornton said he believes Maryland has what it takes to take on such a massive undertaking. It was done before with the Bridge of Excellence, and it can be done again.
“The most important thing is that you have to, which is something that Thornton and the Bridge To Excellence did, is that you have to remove artificial differences that prevent people from working together to fund what you say you want to do for the children,” he said.
PGCPS Interim CEO Monica Goldson weighed in on the effort at a press conference on Monday, March 4 at Rosa L. Parks Elementary School.
“It is important that we all understand the Blueprint For Maryland’s Future ensures that we improve outcomes for all students by adding additional resources to improve teacher compensation, an expansion for full-day pre-k and wraparound services to identify schools that need it the most,” she said.
Also among those at the press conference were State Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-22), several Board of Education members and Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA) President Theresa Mitchell Dudley to offer their support.
Lanee Sheffield, who teaches second grade at Rosa L. Parks Elementary, said she was excited about the Kirwan Commission’s Blueprint For Maryland’s Future because it will allow for more supplies, such as new technology, to bridge the gap to prepare students as well as help with teacher retention.
“Even though I know I do this passionately out of my heart, having that will help a lot. I know I have some colleagues saying they are trying to make ends meet so this will be able to help just counter what we need to do financially.”
Dudley also said that the new initiative would allow the school system to better serve students due to adequate funding and help for the teachers.
“It’s time for us to stand up to make sure that we have educators in the classroom that are not transitioning from one district to another,” she said. “That Prince George’s County has struggled with retention of teachers over the past several years because they can go to another jurisdiction and make a little more money and what that does to our kids is really important.”
In a further effort to advocate for the Blueprint For Maryland’s Future, PGCPS participated in the March For Our Schools on the evening of March 4. Their teachers, parents and students marched in Annapolis to show their support for fully funding Maryland’s schools.
“It’s extremely important that we all work together to ensure that the $65 million from this bill comes to Prince George’s County because the state Maryland has underfunded us for way too long,” Washington said.