10-Year Cost of Kirwan Education Reforms Near $32 Billion

Orignially published on FOX 45 News

MPPI in the News Chris Papst Nov 20, 2019

A longtime Loyola University economics professor says taxpayers are being misled about the true cost of education reform in Maryland.

“This is a hugely expensive program and I'm not sure that the localities can afford it. I'm not sure that the state can afford it,” explained Dr. Stephen Walters.

Watch the interview with Dr. Walters!

For 38 years, Walters taught economics at Loyola University. He’s a fellow of Applied Economics at John’s Hopkins University and the Chief Economist at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. And he says state taxpayers are simply not being told what the Kirwan Commission to revamp Maryland public schools will really cost.

“I think the commission has engaged in some spin control here,” Walters told Project Baltimore.

It’s often said Kirwan reforms will cost state taxpayers about four billion over ten years. We’ve heard that amount in committee hearings and news reports.

But a chart, found on page 137 of the Kirwan report, says something different. Turns out four billion, is just the amount for year ten. If you add up the increased funding for years one through nine, the actual cost of Kirwan is $31.9 billion.

“You just did arithmetic, and this is about schools and you would think that the commission members would be doing that arithmetic, but they didn't,” said Walters.

To put that $32 billion figure into perspective, Maryland’s entire state operating budget for 2020 is $46 billion. To pay for it all, Walters says it’s likely that state and local taxes will increase. Members of the Kirwan Commission don’t argue that. They say, it’s worth it.

“The Kirwan Commission, the blue print for Maryland’s future, is not just about increased funding, it’s about significant reform about how we educate kids and about providing new levels of accountability for schools to make sure they are doing what they need to do,” Delegate Eric Luedtke told Project Baltimore.

Luedtke, a Democrat from Montgomery County, is a member of the Kirwan Commission. In addition to increasing teacher pay, he says the added billions will help lower-income schools, expand Pre-K and bolster career and technology training.

“Maryland’s economy is based on having a high education work force,” said Luedtke. “The reason we attract jobs to this state is because companies come here because they know they will have workers who can do the jobs. If we don’t maintain that economic edge, it’s going have series economic consequences for the state long term.”

But Walters says the real consequence is what the Kirwan Commission’s actual $32 billion price tag will do to local budgets, the state’s budget and taxpayers’ wallets.

“Taxpayers have to think of the long run. Politicians maybe have to think about the short run effects,” stated Walters. “The essence of Maryland's problem with education is it lacks a competitive element. School districts control everything. They disempower parents and parents don't have much choice and this doesn't give them any more choice.”

Part of what Kirwan does is increase staffing in schools for Pre-K and administrative jobs. Walters warns the added pension costs that will come with those new employees are not being factored into the total cost. So, the $32 billion number, he says, is just the beginning of what taxpayers will be on the hook for in the future.