Kirwan commission wrangles over who will oversee increased education funding, school reform

By Len Lazarick and Michael Jefferson


As the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education moved closer to recommending billion-dollar increases in K-12 funding along with major structural changes, commission Chairman Brit Kirwan again stressed his repeated calls for accountability.

“This accountability has to be real and it has to have teeth,” said Kirwan, former chancellor of the university system. Kirwan said he has been advised by many people across the state that “without a credible accountability system,” the commission’s final recommendations are likely to fail.

The Commission’s Preliminary Report in January said that “meaningful portions of any new funding would be allocated to LEAs [local education agencies, the county school systems] based on solid evidence that the commission’s recommendations had been faithfully implemented and that they were producing demonstrable results.”

No consensus

The commissioners clearly showed there was no consensus on who or what would make sure their reforms were implemented to get the increased funds.

Kirwan suggested that a high level board like the newly created Education Development Collaborative or something similar oversee implementation.

The commissioners wrangled with the issue, but there was some agreement that that the current State Board of Education was not the body to do it.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, incoming chair of the Senate education committee, favored a body “not rooted in old relationships” with the county school systems. “I do think there should be a small body” but “I don’t want a whole new bureaucracy.”

Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice said he was not sure if the Education Development Collaborative or the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) would be better suited to oversee any new funding streams that the commission creates. He added that it would depend on the amount of funding and how much of the current funding formula changes under their recommendations.

Political control

David Steiner, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the state Board of Education, encouraged the commission to pursue a high level board that would be able to distribute funding without political oversight from legislators who might prioritize their own political goals over what the commission recommends as being in the best interests of the state.

Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said “you need a stronger state board” that is able to avoid being politicized in ways that current structures such as MSDE and the state school board currently are. Madaleno noted that the most successful international school systems the commission has studied “have a very strong central agency.”

Commission members such as Budget Secretary David Brinkley, a former state senator, wanted to keep the legislature out of the process. But David Helfman, executive director of Maryland State Education Association, a union representing over 70,000 educators, argued that the state legislature should determine what entity receives the authority to distribute funding and he wanted the governor to have no say over a new agency. Over the objections of Helfman’s union, Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed state board members who favor charter and private schools, and he vetoed a bill to add educators to the school board.

Joy Schaefer on the Frederick County board of education emphasized that the commission was recommending major changes in how teachers were recruited, trained and compensated, as well as social services for at-risk students, so any new oversight board needed to look beyond just the local school board. “If you want to change the system, you have to change the system,” not just tinker with the current set up. “The burden shouldn’t just be on the LEAs,” Schaefer said.  

After the long discussion with no clear consensus, Kirwan said, “We have a lot of work to do to get this right.”

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.

1 Comment

  1. charlie hayward

    This Commission’s enabling legislation was sufficiently vague to create the risk of mediocre outputs from the commission itself, and middling outcomes 5 years down the road.

    I could go on and on about the legislation’s shortcomings. Among its many serious omissions, the law fails to address any criteria or requirement for any form and content of the Commission’s reporting. The law itself is a failure of accountability because it lacks structure for the Commission’s work.

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