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Kirwan Group Recommends $4B for Md. Public Education

WASHINGTON INFORMER — A funding-formula work group on Tuesday recommended spending about $4 billion to improve Maryland’s public education, but a few jurisdictions would be asked to pony up more money. Prince George’s County would be asked to provide almost $361 million by 2030, the highest amount proposed in the state. That’s because the majority-Black jurisdiction receives some of the most state aid toward education.

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The Kirwan Commission Funding Formula work group recommended approvals to split the cost between state and local governments for funding public education over the next 10 years. (Photo by: William J. Ford | The Washington Informer)

By William J. Ford

ANNAPOLIS — A funding-formula work group on Tuesday recommended spending about $4 billion to improve Maryland’s public education, but a few jurisdictions would be asked to pony up more money.

Prince George’s County would be asked to provide almost $361 million by 2030, the highest amount proposed in the state. That’s because the majority-Black jurisdiction receives some of the most state aid toward education.

“We are going to spread the burden to achieve what we want for our children,” Alvin Thornton, a member of the funding group and chair of the Prince George’s school board, said after the three-hour session. “When you get all that money coming from the state, your local share also increases. County leaders and businesses are going to have to do all [they] can do from [their] resources to fund education for our children.”

According to proposed figures, the state would provide $2.8 billion by 2030 and local counties and Baltimore City about $1.2 billion for a total for $4 billion.

Baltimore City would be asked to provide the second highest amount at $330 million and the third highest amount would come from Montgomery County at $263 million.

The figures are based on projections from the 13-member Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula group asked to identify ways to split the cost to boost the state’s education between the state and local jurisdictions.

The group didn’t present how to pay for the increased spending, leaving that decision to state and county leaders.

Those recommendations will be passed on to the full 25-member group also known as the Kirwan Commission, named after its chair, William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the former University of Maryland System chancellor.

The education spending plan would go toward expanding pre-kindergarten, increasing teacher salaries, hiring additional mental health providers and other services and resources.

The funding formula breakdown includes:

• $32 million in fiscal years 2021 to 2024 for college and career readiness.

• $75 million for teacher supplies and technology, an equivalent of $83 per teacher in fiscal year 2021.

• Between $32 million in fiscal year 2021 to $96 million in fiscal year 2024 for full-day pre-kindergarten for 4-year-old children from low-income households.

Even when the commission makes a final approval, it will then go to the governor and Maryland General Assembly to determine whether to craft any of the education items into legislation.

Former state Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City, a member of the funding formula group who approved the recommendations, had a few reservations on where the city would find additional money.

“I understand the need, but just given the dynamics of specifically what’s happening in the poorer jurisdictions, especially in Baltimore City, it’s dreamland to really sit here and believe that we will be even able to pay,” she said.

Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said paying for education remains a worthy need.

“Are children today able to maximize their God-given potential based on the quality of Maryland public schools? The answer to that question today, despite a lot of our great efforts, is ‘no,’” he said. “This is a moment of consequence. We believe in the power of young people across the state of Maryland. We are willing to put our time, our resources and our money to show that each and every one of them deserve the opportunity to be great. This formula provides a path to get there.”

Two members of the commission, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and David Brinkley, budget secretary for Gov. Larry Hogan, declined to vote.

“As the governor has indicated, he liked some of the elements to [education proposal],” Brinkley said to reporters after the vote. “We’re still trying to figure out exactly how do you move forward and what is it that you’re doing to deliver the biggest bang for the buck.”

Later Tuesday, Hogan himself weighed in, chiding the group as the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.”

“I have tremendous respect for Dr. Kirwan and have supported many of his well-meaning recommendations, some of which can be phased in over the next several years,” the governor said in an issued statement. “Unfortunately, the [commission] is hell-bent on spending billions more than we can afford and legislators are refusing to come clean about where the money is going to come from. Even after more than three years of meetings, there is still no clear plan whatsoever for how either the state, or the counties, will pay this massive price tag.”

Matt Gallagher, president of the Goldseker Foundation of Baltimore and member of the funding work group, had a simple response: “It’s not this group’s charge on how to pay for it.”

The Kirwan Commission plans to meet again Oct. 30 in Annapolis.

This post originally appeared in The Washington Informer.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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NNPA – Black Press w/ Hendriks Video Interview

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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