February 5, 2020,

Today, Governor Hogan will give the annual State of the State Address to the General Assembly.  In this address, the Governor will outline his key legislative and policy priorities. It is widely expected that he will dedicate a significant portion of the address to the public education reforms proposed by the Kirwan Commission.  In 2020, the “state of the state” in Maryland includes a powerful Democratic majority in the General Assembly and a Republican governor. This combination resulted in the General Assembly overriding a gubernatorial veto five times. 

Veto Power in Reverse

The voting was mostly along party lines when the General Assembly voted to override five of Governor Hogan’s vetoes from last year. All five bills were passed by the General Assembly but after reviewing them, Governor Hogan decided for political and policy reasons, they were not in Maryland’s best interest and used his veto power to overrule the General Assembly. The Democratic controlled General Assembly clearly disagreed with the Governor and overrode his veto.

It takes 29 votes in the Senate and 85 votes in the House to override a veto. This shows the beginning of what could be a contentious legislative session between the Governor and the General Assembly over policy and tax issues. Lawmakers reversed Hogan’s vetoes of the following bills:

  • Expanding the state’s Dream Act, giving in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants,
  • Restoring a bill that expands the grievance process for state workers,
  • Revamping the management of the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay,
  • Not allowing employers criminal history on job applications, (“ban the box”), and
  • Abolishing the Handgun Permit Review Board.

While there are a number of policy and political issues concerning each vetoed item, the ban the box bill is of particular interest to employers, since it takes away the right to ask a job applicant, during the first interview or on an application,  about criminal history but you can ask in a second interview. This will add another regulation and burden to the hiring process.

Lots of talk about funding for Kirwan but what do we get?

SB 2, the Digital Advertising Tax, would tax social media companies at up to a 10% rate on the gross revenue earned from digital ads that target Maryland IP addresses. On Wednesday, January 29, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee heard testimony on this bill. If SB 2 were to pass, Maryland would be the first state to impose this punitive tax on digital advertising a which would drive up the cost of social media services and create additional reporting requirements for those businesses involved with digital advertising.  The tax revenue generated by this tax on social media is proposed to help fund the public education recommendations from the Kirwan Commission. The debate on SB 2 and other new taxes for Kirwan will continue and prompt a lot of debate

What has been missing from the funding debate is conversation about how each county will come up with money to pay for Kirwan, each county will be on the hook for about a third of the new costs.  County Council will be starting this discussion soon!

With all the talk and debate about funding for Kirwan, what exactly would Marylanders get?  The Commission had concern over the condition of Maryland schools, so HB 1 and SB 1 have been introduced to address public school construction projects with methods for funding pending.  In addition to improving and adding to existing school facilities there are five recommendations from the Kirwan Commission which is also known as The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education:

  1. Better Compensation for Teachers

The initial salary would go up by 10% as an attempt to close the gap with the average teacher salary in nearby states. This could mean a starting salary of $60,000, in comparison to the current Anne Arundel County teacher salary of nearly $48,000 for those who have a bachelor’s degree.  Increasing salary could also encourage experienced teachers to remain in Anne Arundel County and reduce the number of teachers who have to take second jobs to make ends meet.

  1. Reduction in Class Size

If you have ever been in a class with a large number of students (more than 25) you know the difficulty in managing that many students. In many cases, class sizes in Anne Arundel County are over 30 students. Many teachers have said, smaller class size is almost as important as increased pay. Kirwan recommendations call for improving working conditions by reducing class size. This will require more teachers and additional funding.

  1. Discipline and Juvenile Citations

In Anne Arundel County, juvenile citations in schools have been increasing. There is a concern that “at risk” students are not receiving the support and services to prevent the incidence of school discipline. With additional counselors, school psychologists and social workers, school districts could prevent the amount of student arrests or disciplinary actions and reduce the role of police.

  1. Address the Over-Identification of Disabilities

The expansion of pre-kindergarten, providing additionally tutoring opportunities and smaller class size, will reduce the “over-identification”, the number of students identified with a learning disability, and could bring down the number of IEPs which can be costly. Early childhood programs would be targeted with an expansion of full day pre-kindergarten, increase number of technical and tuition assistance and the expansion of support centers to provide services for low-income families.

  1. Ensure Accountability for Spending

Any funding to implement the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission need to be closely monitored to ensure the money is going towards key programs identified by Kirwan. There would be an oversight group to review expenditures, measure results and report to the General Assembly.