On Thursday night, people filled the auditorium at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute to participate in the Kirwan Commission forum. The auditorium was full of energy, people waving yellow papers that stated #fixtheforumla, and a group of people in matching shirts with “Yes!” and “No!” signs. The 25 members of the Kirwan Commission sat ready to hear from the people of Baltimore City.
How did we get here?
In 2002, The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act created a school aid formula in Maryland. This gave each school system a, “per pupil amount—which was $6,860 in fiscal year 2015—is [was] then adjusted for every local jurisdiction depending on its property value and income levels…counties with less wealth (and therefore less ability to cover educational costs) receive a greater share of state aid” (“Thornton Plan,” 2016). Additionally, “school systems receive supplemental aid” for children based on backgrounds of poverty, limited English proficiency, and special education services (“Thornton Plan,” 2016).
Now, in the fall of 2017, the Kirwan Commission (named after the chair of the commission, Dr. Kirwan) is tasked with revisiting this formula and providing the General Assembly of Maryland with recommendations. The members of the commission conducted forums across the state to hear from concerned citizens. For more information on the Kirwan Commission, see the links to the articles in the reference section of this post.
I left the forum thinking about a few things:
The people who spoke at the forum shared a wide-range of perspectives and offered different ideas on the biggest problems in our public education system in Baltimore. Each speaker spoke from his or her sphere of influence about specific concerns. People shared concerns about class sizes, access to SAT prep and AP courses, teacher preparation and retention, the burden of taxes to the citizens of Baltimore, and the need for more counselors and social workers. I was struck with the complexity of the problems shared at the forum and immense task upon the shoulders of the Kirwan Commission.
Then I heard the Kirwan Commission would give its recommendations by the end of 2017. I had just watched as leaders from Baltimore City pleaded with the commission to hear their concerns and possible solutions. The members of the commission sat quietly without responding. The forum was held on October the 12th, and the commission is going to provide their recommendations by the end of 2017? I believe a timeline to hear the concerns, take them into consideration, conduct a healthy debate, and make a recommendation would take a lot longer than the two and a half months left in 2017. Was this forum all a formality? How will this commission be able to make meaningful recommendations based on the experience and insights of the people these changes will most affect? It is the difference between hearing and listening. I could see that the commission was hearing the people of Baltimore, but was the commission really listening? We will see in January 2018.
Richman, T. & Bowie, L (2017, October 12). Hundreds urge Kirwan Commission to provide equitable funding to schools. Retrieved October 14, 2017 from
Sterner, Rachel Baye Nathan. “A packed Poly urges equity in school funding.” WYPR, WYPR, 13 Oct. 2017, wypr.org/post/packed-poly-urges-equity-school-funding.
Thornton Plan. (2016, January 29). Retrieved October 14, 2017, from