The Politics of the Kirwan Commission

We’re going to talk about this more tonight on Red Maryland Radio, but this story is a pretty big deal:
A plan to revamp and increase spending on Maryland public schools will be delayed beyond next year’s General Assembly session, officials said Wednesday.
Lawmakers were set to spend the first few months of 2018 debating the first major overhaul of education policy in more than 15 years. Instead, that discussion will be pushed back until after the 2018 state elections.
William E. “Brit” Kirwan, leader of the commission issuing the policy recommendations, said Wednesday that his panel is moving toward consensus on recommending universal pre-K, a revamped pay structure for teachers and a new formula to more fairly distribute education funding across the state, among other measures.
However, there’s not enough time to calculate the costs of the commission’s recommendations or come up with suggestions for paying for them before the new legislative session begins in January, Kirwan said.
“There’s simply no point in producing a report the state can’t afford,” he said. “The alternative [to delaying it] is to have a wonderful report that is not based in fiscal reality.”….
A consultant hired by the commission to review the current funding formula, known as the Thornton formula, determined that Maryland would need to spend about $2.9 billion more each year on K-12 education if all students were to have equal access to high-quality schooling. About $2 billion of that amount would need to come from the state, consultants said. About $7.9 billion of of the state’s roughly $43 billion annual operating budget is spent on K-12 schools.
That price tag does not take into account changes the Kirwan Commission would recommend to improve schools — proposals such as creating a way for quality teachers to earn more without having to leave their classrooms for higher-paying jobs in school administration, providing free or low-cost pre-kindergarten to every 4-year-old child in the state, giving more resources to at-risk students, and reinstating vocational training in many high schools.
Kirwan declined to say Wednesday whether the changes favored by the commission would have a price tag in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.
All of that is well and good, and obviously, it’s smart of Kirwan and the commissioners to seek to delay their report rather than submit a report that’s half-cocked.
But let’s get to the real reason the report is being delayed.
Increasing education funding by hundreds of millions or billions would likely require a funding stream to pay for it, according to budget analysts.
And there you have it. The commission delay is really related to politics. And for two reasons that are very important to the Democrats.
If you assume that the Kirwan Commission is going to come back and recommend additional changes to the structure of state schools, then the Commission is, in fact, going to have to recommend drastic increases in K-12 spending (leaving aside the issue s to whether or not additional spending is the problem). Additional spending is not going to make it n the Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposed by Governor Larry Hogan, regardless of the Commissions recommendations, not the least of which being that the Commission was created by Democrats in the General Assembly at the behest of their overlords in the Maryland State Education Association. Any changes to funding it would have to be passed through changes to mandated spending and almost certainly, as the article notes, would require a “funding stream” to pay for. That funding stream would, by its nature, be a tax increase proposed by Democrats. And there is no way that the Democrats will propose major tax hikes in an election year and give Governor Hogan a political cudgel to beat them with. Will not happen.
But that brings us to the second reason for the delay in the Commission report that also deals with the 2018 election. The Commission delaying its report past the 2018 General Assembly cycle will give Maryland Democrats yet another excuse to attack Governor Hogan over K-12 education funding. It doesn’t matter to them or course that Governor Hogan has funded K-12 education at higher levels than any Governor in Maryland history. The Democratic Party, it’s associated Super PACs, Union allies, and every other out-of-state left-wing group under the sun will launch a coordinated attack at Governor Hogan saying that “he’s not doing enough for education”, and will point to the impending Kirwan Commission report to show as their evidence.
The political outcomes of the Kirwan Commission were never in doubt because the political outcomes were baked into its creation. Why else would the commission makeup be appointees from the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, the Superintendent of Schools, and six educational unions. One need look no further than what some of the gubernatorial candidates said today.

The Kirwan Commission may be delaying its recommendations. But make no mistake about it; the Commission is going to influence the Democrats 2018 election strategy just as Mike Miller and Mike Busch hoped it would.

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