The Kirwan Commission
& Education Reform in Maryland

The Baltimore Community Foundation is part of a statewide coalition advocating for education reform. With our supportthe General Assembly passed The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future in March 2020, a historic, bipartisan piece of legislation that would implement the full recommendations of the Kirwan Commission and ensure high-quality education for every child in our state – regardless of race, income or zip code 

In early MayGovernor Hogan vetoed the Blueprint and now, we are urging legislators to override his veto and seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an educational system that works for all. Join us.  

Education is our
most powerful tool

This year, our leaders will be tasked with crafting policy that enacts and funds significant education reform for Maryland students. At this critical time, we call on our elected leaders in Annapolis to consider the weight of these important policies and to exercise all the political courage necessary to fix existing institutional barriers to student achievement in Maryland. The future health, equity, strength and safety of Maryland’s families and communities depend on it. 

Updates & Commentary


The Maryland General Assembly established the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education in 2016. Its mission was to provide recommendations that create a world-class education for Maryland’s public school students. The Commission’s 26 members represent a bipartisan cross-section of state and local elected officials, government agencies, academic administrators, educators, and parents. 

The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations include: 

    • Expanding pre-kindergarten (full-day) to all 4-year-olds, as well as 3-year-olds from low-income families;
    • Increasing the standards to become a teacher and raising teacher salaries;
    • Revamping high schools to offer students training for well-paying jobs right after graduation;
    • Providing more support to special education students and schools with concentrations of low-income families, including establishing more “community schools” with additional services for students and their families; and
    • A new Independent Oversight Board to make certain funds are used to implement the Commission’s recommendations with fidelity and effectiveness and achieve the desired results.

Maryland now ranks first in the nation in median household income, yet we rank 31st among states in the percentage of Gross Domestic Product spent on K-12 education. Among our neighbors in the Northeast, we spend less per pupil on education than every state but one. By the State’s own estimates, our existing education funding formula, last updated in 2002, is outdated and currently underfunds Maryland’s public schools by at least $2.9 billion annually, a gap that averages $2 million per school.

With a gap this large, many Maryland students and families today suffer the negative consequences of overcrowded classrooms, teacher shortages and lack of access to resources and programs like pre-kindergarten and technical education. In many jurisdictions, aging school buildings are without heat in the winter or cooling in the summer – conditions that are unacceptable for learning environments in the 21st Century.

As a result, student success is deteriorating, and our children are falling behind their peers in the U.S. and internationally.

    • According to a 2019 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 39% of Maryland’s 4th graders were deemed proficient or better at mathematics.
    • Maryland was the only state to see 4th and 8th-grade test scores drop in reading and math.
    • More than 60% of Maryland’s graduating high school seniors can’t read at a 10th-grade level or pass an Algebra 1 test.
    • Only 40% of today’s students are considered college- and career-ready by senior year.
    • Significant gaps in opportunity and achievement exist among students based solely on where they live, the color of their skin and/or their family’s income level. Half of Maryland’s Black or Latino students attend schools in one of the three most underfunded districts in the state. These districts already receive about $4000 less per student than the current funding formula says they should.

The Commission envisions phasing in these new and expanded programs over 10 years. By the end of a decade, at full phase-in, the state would have contributed an additional $2.8 billion and county governments would contribute an additional $1.2 billion combined. This represents an increase of approximately 2.5% more each year in state and local spending for public schools.

State lawmakers passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future in 2019, which requires the state to spend $850 million on Kirwan programs for two years, starting July 1, 2020.  Going forward, Maryland House and Senate leaders have announced that they don’t intend to increase the state’s property, income or sales tax to pay for education reform. Instead, legislators are considering a series of revisions to the state’s tax law in addition to revenues from gambling and other new revenue streams.

A recent report commissioned by Strong Schools Maryland concludes that the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations would result in long-term economic benefits for the state and “would begin paying for themselves by 2034 as a better-educated workforce earns higher salaries, pays more in taxes and uses fewer public assistance programs.”

Specifically, the report conveys that:

    • Residents who earn a graduate degree typically make five times more in their lifetimes than those who fail to graduate from high school, while relying less on public assistance. High education levels also correlate with lower levels of incarceration.
    • A typical class of Maryland students right now is expected to pay $8.9 billion in state and local taxes over a lifetime, but if the Kirwan Commission recommendations boost students’ academic performance, thereby increasing salaries, the same group of students could be expected to pay $12.5 billion in taxes over their lives.
    • Massachusetts passed similarly robust education reforms 1993, which are credited with improving the state’s schools. At the time, workers from Maryland and Massachusetts made about the same salary. Today, the average Massachusetts resident earns more than $8,000 more than the average Marylander.

To learn more about the economic benefits of education reform, visit our website for the full “Return on Investment” report.

The repercussions of an inadequately funded education system are clear and far-reaching. At best, we are holding our children accountable for outcomes without providing the tools necessary to accomplish them. At worst, we are perpetuating systematic barriers to educational success.


In addition to broader economic impacts, there is an abundance of data defining a high-quality education as one of the most important indicators of long-term health and quality of life, influencing where someone can live, if they can afford healthcare and overall life expectancy. Higher educational attainment is also closely aligned with lower rates of crime and incarceration.

This year, our leaders will be tasked with crafting policy that enacts and funds significant education reform for Maryland students. At this critical time, we call on our elected leaders in Annapolis to consider the weight of these important policies and to exercise all the political courage necessary to fix existing institutional barriers to student achievement in Maryland. The future health, equity, strength and safety of Maryland’s families and communities depend on it.

Follow the Baltimore Community Foundation on Facebook and Twitter for updates on legislative action, events, and other opportunities to make your voice heard.

Other Resources

  • Visit the Kirwan Commission’s web page, including the Commission’s interim report and the technical supplement, which compares the performance of Maryland’s schools with top educational systems in the U.S. and around the world.   
  • Our advocacy for the Kirwan Commission recommendations is informed by research BCF commissioned from The Education Trust to examine disparities in educational achievement between Maryland’s students of color and white students. These disparities are a reflection of how we organize our schools and shortchange certain students when it comes to critical educational opportunities from early childhood through high school. Find the data here in the full Ed Trust Report.
  • BCF’s President & CEO Shanaysha Sauls submitted written testimony in support of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, as  introduced in House Bill 1300 and Senate Bill 1000 in this Maryland General Assembly 2020 session. Click here to view.
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Happy New Year!

Baltimore Community Foundation will be closed on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Staff will be working remotely during the month of January, as well. Thank you for your support and we look forward to serving you in 2022.

Place-based Grantmaking in Selected School Communities

We have allocated funds for two geographical areas that bookend a crucial corridor on the Westside of Baltimore City: Howard Park /Forest Park area (served by Calvin Rodwell Elementary Middle School and Liberty Elementary), and Reservoir Hill/Penn North area (served by Dorothy I Height Elementary). In these three schools and their surrounding neighborhoods, we will support projects and activities designed to make the communities safe, clean, green and vibrant; and improve the quality of the schools. Some projects may be neighborhood-focused, some school-focused and others collaborative projects between the schools and their respective communities.

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School Leadership

We believe that attracting and retaining effective and diverse school leaders is a key lever for change in Baltimore's educational landscape, and so we fund school leadership development efforts at the district and individual school level. We are interested in funding proposals that focus on principal coaching, mentoring, peer networking, wellness/self-care, as well as pipelines that identify and develop new leaders. We will also continue to support efforts that build a culture of appreciation and encouragement for school leaders.

Building Stronger Neighborhoods Regionwide

We have a nearly 30-year history of offering grants to resident-led groups and community projects in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. These grants give residents the resources they need to accomplish a small project, get more people involved, and encourage the next generation of neighborhood leaders. We also fund programs that support the development of leaders of all ages who are working to improve their neighborhoods and schools. Our support is intended to help identify, activate, inform and network leaders. And finally, we believe when schools and neighborhoods team up to improve their school and community, meaningful and lasting change can be made. We are interested in funding proposals in which the students and adults in schools collaborate intentionally with community residents, neighborhood associations, and other individuals, groups, and institutions in the area surrounding a school.

Early Learning & Judy Centers

High quality early childhood education has a lifelong effect on students. Through our Early Learning grant program, we are interested in system-wide early childhood education proposals that will help Baltimore City and County's youngest learners, and their families, get the start they need. Nonprofit organizations that offer programs and/or services to Judy Centers are encouraged to contact the centers directly to explore partnership opportunities.