News from Annapolis
2020 Session:                            Delegate Trent Kittleman - District 9A
Week Three--Special Edition on Education

KIRWAN:
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"Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education"
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Will $32 Billion Improve our Schools?
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A (very) short overview of "Kirwan"
       The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was a multi-year initiative to research and develop major funding and policy reforms to improve the quality of Maryland's public education system.  Below is a chart that focuses on the areas where money will be spent, as well as the funds recommended by the Commission to support the program.   For more information, you can access the 243-page Report by clicking here.
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Accountability:  The Devil is in the Details
            The much heralded Kirwan Commission has completed its work, and the General Assembly will be looking at legislation to enact the recommendations of the Committee, at a 10-year cost of over $30 million.
            While there is much concern about where the $30 million would come from, there was as much or more concern over the perceived lack of adequate accountability standards.
            The Commission addresses this issue in depth on pages 122-134: "It is imperative that a strong system of accountability be put in place to give the public confidence that its increased investment in pre-K-12 education will lead to a system that performs as well as the best education systems in the world."
            Pursuant thereto, the Commission recommends creating an "independent oversight board of education policy experts to develop a comprehensive implementation plan."
            In addition to the independent oversight board, the Report also recommends that MSDE appoint Expert Review Teams to conduct hands-on reviews of individual schools to find the cause of poor student performance and report back on what should be done.
            In an effort to put some teeth into the Oversight Board, the Commission recommends giving the Oversight Board the "authority to withhold up to 25% of new funds if it finds that the local school system or school is not doing what it should do."
Is Withholding Funds an adequate Consequence to enforce compliance?
            There is an inherent unwillingness among elected and appointed officials to actually impose serious consequences, particularly if the consequence seems harsh. Withholding a portion of State funding seems to be a more acceptable, civilized way to hold people accountable. However, the first hint that even this financial consequence might be too harsh for our elected and appointed officials occurs on page 132: "The Commission does not believe that funds should be withheld from any school or district simply because of poor student performance." Excuse me!? Isn't that the bottom line? Everything else is ancillary to raising the scholastic performance of students. If poor performance by students doesn't invoke the only consequence, what is the consequence for?
            And then, there is the question of whether withholding funds is adequate even when the State attempts to invoke it.
 
The Devil is in the Details .
            If we could go "poof" and the recommendations would be fully implemented, there would be massive support for the plan.
            Unfortunately, we have no magic wand, and Harry Potter is stuck at Hogwarts.
The major concern of many Marylanders is WILL IT WORK? Will we have the discipline to enact major changes in a bureaucratic system over a period of 10 years?
            And the answer to that question depends almost exclusively on the viability of the accountability and consequences provision.
            We can't predict the long term future any better than a meteorologist can accurately predict the weather beyond next week. But we can learn from the past.
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Lessons from the Baltimore City Schools
            The catalyst for the effort to help Baltimore City schools ("City Schools" or "BCPS") to improve came initially from a lawsuit filed by the City against the State charging that the State was failing to provide the "thorough and efficient" or "adequate" education to the students in Baltimore City, as required by the Maryland Constitution. 
            The state soon realized that the problem with the underperforming City Schools was twofold: insufficient funding was just one prong; the City's "failure to adequately manage the school system" was just as big an issue.
             Over the 10-12 year period the State and the Board of City School Commissioners ("Board") addressed both prongs of the problem.  Through the recommendations of the Thornton Commission, the State increased funding to the City Schools by 43%. Meanwhile, during the same time, the State and the Board made repeated efforts to address the management issues and restructure the system. 
        All efforts failed.
           How and why the state failed to get the City to implement changes is instructive in showing what might happen now, in our efforts to implement the Kirwan changes, and will help us to avoid the same mistakes.
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The State finds MANAGEMENT problems
            The first State effort to improve the City Schools began in 1992. After investigating and analyzing the problems that plagued the City, the State found that the City had:
  • "failed to implement a legislatively-endorsed series of recommendations made in 1992 by a consulting firm, that it had
  • failed to use nearly $12 million in Federal and State resources that had been made available to it in FY 1992-1995, that
  • due to lack of planning and management, it had failed to access millions of dollars of additional Federal funds that could have become available, and that it
  • failed to use $20 million of State capital improvement funds because of delays in design work and in signing contracts.
"The State alleged further that the City had failed to develop and implement:
  • a uniform curriculum,
  • an effective personnel training and evaluation system,
  • an adequate management information system,
  • an adequate procurement system,
  • effective testing protocols,
  • effective grants administration and monitoring,
  • a comprehensive plan to reduce school crime, and
  • an adequate plan to comply with the mandates of the U.S. District Court with respect to special education programs then under Federal court scrutiny."
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The CONSENT Agreement
        Soon thereafter, rather than argue out the issues in court, the State and the City entered into a "Consent Decree," that set forth rules for going forward.
            The Consent Decree provided, essentially, for five things:
  • a significant restructuring of the governance of the City Public School System,
  • the provision of certain additional funding by the State for FY 1998-2002,
  • the development of a plan to increase student achievement,
  • interim and final review and evaluation of progress, and
  • the continuance of jurisdiction by the court
              Time went by without progress; instead, the City seemed uniquely unable to stay within its budgets. The City of Baltimore agreed to make a loan to the City Schools, and o n March 17, 2004, the City School Board and the City of Baltimore entered into a City Funding Agreement.
        The funding agreement created a three-person Fiscal Operating Committee to develop and implement a financial recovery plan. That plan was to include a new budgetary process, a schedule for reducing the structural deficit, an affordable downsized staffing model for BCPS, and further cos-saving measures.
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 The Fiscal Operating Committe
            But the Fiscal Operating Committee was unable to implement any of the mandated changes.  The Committee's Report  noted that the FY 2004 plan to reduce the deficit not only could not be implemented but that an additional deficit was looming because:
(1)   budgeted personnel costs were based on estimated salaries that did not reflect actual salaries,
(2)   previously promised re-engineering efforts were never completed,
(3)   temporary employees were not laid off when projected,
(4)   staff initially paid through grants were absorbed by general funds when the grants expired, and 
(5)   monthly cost reporting lagged months behind.
            "The Report concluded that the City Schools " not only continue to cut and contain costs in the remaining months of FY 2004 and PLAN TO LIVE WITHIN ITS MEANS, it must also produce future year surpluses that will equal or exceed the cumulative deficit that it will carry forward at the end of the current fiscal  year."
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 MSDE Appoints Panel to Investigate City Schools
          "In July, 2004, a separate panel appointed by Maryland State Board of Education to investigate the BCPS deficit, made its report.  In strong language, the panel condemned the City Schools management.  "The 'makings of a disaster,' it said, were there from the beginning including:
  • no system of internal communication,
  • no discipline,
  • no meaningful oversight,
  • a sense in middle management that new initiatives need not be followed because senior management would change,
  • no accountability, and
  • no sanctions for failure to perform
 "In a system with almost a complete lack of consequence for overspending, the surprise is that the deficit is not even larger." 
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The Greater Baltimore Committee takes a turn
           "A similar critique of BCPS management, along with positive recommendations for improvement, was rendered by The Greater Baltimore Committee and The Presidents' Roundtable, which had been   requested by the Mayor of Baltimore and the president of the Board to review BCPS's budget process and fiscal management practices."
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 The General Assembly tries legislating compliance
            "While the City's Fiscal Operating Committee, the MSBE panel, and the Greater Baltimore Committee were  analyzing and attempting to deal with the BCPS deficit and management deficiencies, the General Assembly, obviously concerned about school budget deficits, enacted 2004 Md. Laws, Ch. 148, which it called the Education Fiscal Accountability and Oversight Act of 2004. Part of that Act was a new §5-114 added to the Education Article."
The Education Fiscal Accountability and Oversight Act:
  • required each local school superintendent to file a biannual report on the financial status of the local school system,
  • required the State Superintendent of Schools to monitor the financial status of each local school system and to make a biannual report to the Governor and Legislature.
  • provided that a local school system may not carry a deficit as reported in the annual audit of its financial transactions and accounts. 
"If a deficit was reported, the State Superintendent was required:
  1. to notify the Governor, the General Assembly, and the appropriate county government, and
  2. among other things, to require the local school system to develop and submit for approval a corrective action cost containment plan within 15 days and
  3. to file monthly status reports demonstrating action taken to close the deficit."

         The General Assembly included what it hoped would be both a carrot and stick to encourage the City Schools to comply.

        "If the local school system failed to comply with those requirements, the State Superintendent, with the approval of the State Board of Education, was to notify the State Comptroller who, in turn, was to withhold 10% of each installment of State funds payable to the local school system until compliance was effected.

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City Schools given an EXTRA YEAR to comply
            "Apparently recognizing that it would be impracticable to immediately apply the prohibition against deficits to Baltimore City, which then was reporting at least a $58 million deficit, the Legislature provided, in an uncodified §4 of the Act, . . . [they] effectively gave Baltimore one year more than was given to the 23 other local school systems to eliminate any deficit it might be carrying."
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Did it work?
            Notwithstanding the threat that the State could withhold 10% of the funds appropriated for them, the City Schools used a common political ploy to avoid being accountable. 
        They proposed cuts to high-profile programs -- eliminating systemic summer school for at-risk children, increase class size, eliminate guidance counselors and encourage the retirement of skilled teachers - all calculated to inflame the parents
         It worked. 
        The Bradford plaintiffs filed a complaint, arguing that these cuts "would reduce the educational opportunities available to the City students and suggested ways to get more funding, including, accelerating the phase-in of the Thornton funding, "relax the requirement that the Board repay $34 million of the $42 million loan in August, 2004, and that the parties "alter" BCPS's plan to eliminate its structural deficit within two years."
        The State filed a reply to the Complaint, asking the court to find that the State aid as proposed would "satisfy the constitutional standard of adequacy."  The State also asked the court to "order such additional restructuring of BCPS in order for the system to function efficiently and effectively."  
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Not according to the Baltimore City Circuit Court
            "Following a four-day evidentiary hearing, . . .the court adopted most of the proposed findings submitted by the plaintiffs and virtually none of those proposed by the State."
 
            This extraordinary ruling and order by the circuit court virtually instructed the State Legislature to appropriate more funds for the Baltimore City Schools in the amounts requested by the City Schools.
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The Court of Appeals Saves the Day
            The Court of Appeals (in Maryland v. Bradley) left no doubt that the circuit court had overstepped its authority in ordering the legislature to provide more funding to the City Schools.
            "The General Assembly has at least the authority, if not an obligation, to ensure that appropriations for educational purposes are managed wisely and, to prohibit local school systems from running deficits.

            "Indeed, to continue to permit school systems, through deliberate or negligent conduct, to become fiscally irresponsible and insolvent, as BCPS became, would be a breach of its solemn responsibility to both the children and the taxpayers of the State."
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Status of the lawsuit -- and the City Schools
        The material and the quoted sections of this article are taken from the Maryland Court of Appeals case,   MARYLAND STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION v. Keith A. BRADFORD, et al.,  Decided: June 09, 2005.
        The  Bradford  lawsuit is still open and remains under the authority of the stateʼs Circuit Court.  No further progress in improving the schools in Baltimore City has occurred.
Delegate Trent Kittleman
District 9A, Western Howard County and Southern Carroll County (Sykesville)
Room 202, Lowe House Office Building
6 Bladen Street,   Annapolis, MD 21401
410-841-3556  *   Trent.Kittleman@House.State.MD.US
Interim Office
3000 Kittleman Lane,  West Friendship, MD 21794
301-661-3344  *   trentkittleman@verizon.net
Administrative AideChelsea Leigh Murphy