The Kirwan Commission

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By Heather Bagnall
Delegate, District 33

It is a challenge even before I have entered my office to know what will be the hot-button issue of the season. Nothing represents this truth more in the 439th legislative session than the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (CIEE), more commonly known as the Kirwan Commission, named after the commission chairman, Dr. William Kirwan.

Even before I took office, I was asked by constituents about the Kirwan commission. “What is it?” “What are they recommending?” and “What will it cost?” Many had seen reports that the CIEE did not complete their work before the start of the session and assumed we in the legislature would not be working on policies in support of the recommendations. I think it is essential to get the funding formulas right, but equally essential to get ahead of this narrative, which supposes that we cannot start drafting policies without them, so I will attempt to alleviate some of the confusion.

The commission is composed of 25 members from various entities including local and state government, state agency leaders, public appointments, and appointees from various community and educational entities and unions, as well as the business community. Recommendations have come after an extensive two-year analysis of educational and equity gaps across Maryland and a comparison of our national and global rankings. The Kirwan Commission seeks to make us not only competitive nationally but also a global leader in education and innovation, offering a 21st-century education to all Maryland students, a public education to rival any private institution, while addressing the additional equity gaps that can emerge from instabilities. More than 40 percent of our students across the state are eligible for free or reduced lunches. It is an immensely ambitious endeavor, one that we should not fear but rather embrace.

I am a 20-year veteran of arts education with a focus on alternative learning and non-classroom learners, and I’ll confess, I have to stifle my near-giddy enthusiasm when I consider the possibility that in under a decade, Maryland could not only return to its first-place ranking nationally but could be a global leader. Massachusetts became the national leader in education starting in 2012 with the elevation of educators and an aggressive investment in education, an initiative closely studied by the Kirwan Commission.

Currently, we face a serious shortage of qualified teachers, with morale at an all-time low due to overcrowded classes, and underpaid and overburden educators who often supplement their schools with supplies purchased on their own. This year, we will look at how best to address the equity gap for our educators and bring the profession in line with other professions requiring a similar level of education. We will work to expand early childhood education not only to give students a head start and close equity gaps but also to help working families offset the cost of child care. Additionally, we will look at expanding community schools to offer wrap-around services.

Every one of our children deserves a world-class education, and our community deserves a global workforce, trained and ready for 21st-century opportunities. The commission will continue its work to ensure we get this right. In the meantime, we can start to change the educational profession and expand our early education so we can begin to close the gaps early on. Ballot question one, which put a lockbox around casino revenue, had overwhelming bipartisan support across the state, so we know as legislators that Marylanders support quality education. Maryland has the will. Now we must simply find the way.

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