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  • Maryland Schools Are Underfunded by $3 Billion

    It’s up to the Kirwan Commission to revamp and improve school funding statewide

    Photo © NEA

    Named after its chair, for­mer University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission’s 25 members are working to rewrite Maryland’s school funding formula. They are scheduled to deliver recom­mendations to the General Assembly in December.

    Since legislators passed the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act (also known as the Thornton Plan) in 2002, Maryland has provided historic levels of school funding. But the plan was never meant to accommodate current levels of child poverty. The percentage of Maryland pub­lic school students living in pov­erty has more than doubled since 1990 — from 22% to 45% — putting our statewide student population on the verge of becoming majori­ty low-income. When you consid­er those increased needs togeth­er with the higher standards and new programs implemented over the last five years alone, our cur­rent levels of education spending fall short for too many students.

    MSEA worked with the General Assembly to create the Kirwan Commission in 2016 and now, David Helfman, MSEA’s executive director, advocates for MSEA members in the commission’s discussions.

    How much funding are we talking about?

    In December, the Kirwan Commission received a report from national school fund­ing experts recommending an increase of $2.9 billion statewide ($1.9 billion in state funding and $1 billion in county funding). Ac­cording to their analysis — based on conversations with Maryland educators and recent academic research — that’s how much more spending is necessary for schools to meet the needs of every child.

    The recommendations would provide important gains in re­sources. But how those increases break down varies quite a bit. In St. Mary’s County, schools would see a 44% increase over current spending (an additional $78 million) while Howard would see an 8% increase over current spending ($56 million more). The largest step up in total dollars would go to Prince George’s, which would receive a $600 million boost.

    How and why are schools so underfunded?

    The Thornton Commission developed a plan that in the early 2000s was considered a national model for equitable school funding — and it was remarkably successful. Following its implementation, Maryland schools placed first in Education Week’s state rankings from 2009–2013, first in the

    College Board’s Advanced Place­ment performance rankings from 2007–2016, and second in fourth-grade reading improvement and fourth in fourth-grade math im­provement on NAEP from 2003 to 2013.

    But just like every other state in the country, Maryland had to make some serious budget com­promises in the aftermath of the Great Recession. While Maryland did better than most states in avoiding massive education cuts, the state froze, then capped, the amount of funding increases allowed for a number of years — which had a compounding effect in the Thornton Plan. Under Thornton, each year’s increase, due to inflation and enrollment growth, is based on the previous year’s allocation. The aggregate effect of this has ballooned the underfunding of our schools to nearly $3 billion.

    What are some of the ideas being discussed on the commission?

    Members of the Kirwan Commis­sion want to make recommenda­tions on both what the increased number should be and how they should make this new investment.

    The funding experts who came up with the $2.9 billion recom­mendation also suggested some possible strategies, including: decreasing class sizes; increasing instructional staff; building in more planning time for teach­ers; and hiring more school counselors, nurses, and behavior­al specialists. They also built in the implementation of pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds to their overall recommen­dation. Other experts have testified in front of the commis­sion and stressed the need to invest directly in the education professions by increasing sal­aries and building up training programs based on successful international models.

    These conversations present a rare opportunity to accomplish large-scale improvements to working conditions for educators and learning opportunities for our students.


    Maryland Schools Are Underfunded by $3 Billion was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  • What’s Next?

    ESSA, testing, the Kirwan Commission, and organizing for the 2018 elections with GO Teams

    “This year, educators were extremely well informed and engaged on preventing privatization and reducing testing,” said Sean Johnson, MSEA’s chief lobbyist. “Our mobilization of partners like the PTA and civil rights groups, plus con­cerned community members, led to in-person and online activism that propelled the Protect Our Schools Act (POSA) and More Learning, Less Testing acts to become law.”

    Now, as Maryland implements the new federal education law — the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA — MSEA’s more than 73,000 members will continue to lead the way in shaping the new school accountability system outlined by POSA that prohibits privatization and rewards schools more for providing equitable learning opportunities and less for standardized testing.

    “It’s time, “Johnson says, “to build on the activism we see growing across the state and work locally to implement

    a better accountability system through POSA, reduce testing, advocate for increased funding through the Kirwan Commission, and elect pro-public education candidates in 2018 at the state and local levels.”

    We protected Maryland Schools

    Passage of the Protect Our Schools Act means Maryland’s system for gauging school success will be the least reliant on test scores in the nation. That means more attention on ensuring high attendance rates, safe and supportive learning environments, and effective administrative leadership — mea­sures that more accurately explain a school’s performance.

    But the Protect Our Schools Act gets its name from a more urgent mission: blocking the Betsy DeVos school pri­vatization agenda in Maryland. After Gov. Hogan’s appointees on the State Board of Education began discussing ways to use ESSA to convert public schools to privatively operated charters or handing over operations to for-profit manage­ment companies, we worked with legislators to prohibit such privatization schemes in the law. We also stopped efforts to label schools on the disparaging A–F scale, a common meth­od used by anti-public education advocates trying to paint our schools as failing. Maryland has always made a strong commitment to strengthening our neighborhood schools, and now with this big win, we blocked one of Secretary DeVos’ paths to erode that public commitment to our kids.

    Maryland’s POSA is a national model for ESSA

    That’s why the Protect Our Schools Act is being held up as a national model for ESSA implementation. Diane Ravitch, a prominent researcher and public education defender, wrote, “Congratulations to the educators and parents and students of Maryland for defeating Governor Hogan’s effort to impose the DeVos agenda on the state’s public schools.”

    Monty Neill, founder of FairTest — the leading national advocacy group working to reduce standardized testing — wrote in The Washington Post, “The challenge for testing reformers across the nation is how to follow Maryland’s lead in mobilizing the grassroots and building the powerful coalitions needed to win meaningful assessment and accountability reforms.”

    Where do we go from here?

    While the Protect Our Schools Act handles much of ESSA im­plementation work, it leaves many important decisions to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and state school board. For example, what long term goals should we set in measuring progress as a state? We know No Child Left Behind set completely unrealistic expectations of 100% pro­ficiency in math and reading and that mistake created many problems for schools. We can’t make similar errors again.

    MSEA is monitoring how state officials finish the work we started in the legislature. We will make sure educators across the state have a chance to weigh in on the final draft before it is finalized, approved, and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

    “We lived with No Child Left Behind for more than a decade. To make sure we don’t relive it with ESSA, we need to get it right for our schools and our kids,” Johnson told members at a series of local representative assemblies. “The Protect Our Schools Act was a huge step forward, and now we need to finish the job over the summer and next school year.”

    When educators come together to fight for our students, our schools, and our profession — we win.

    We saw that during this legislative session. Because of our advocacy, the General Assembly passed the Protect Our Schools Act and the More Learning, Less Testing Act, defeating the Betsy DeVos school privatization agenda and cutting back the time and emphasis placed on mandated standardized tests.

    When we work together, we have incredible power. As the state develops and works to fund a new school funding formula through the Kirwan Commission over the next year, we need to keep building and using our power so all of our students get the resources they need. And, we’ll need to remain vigilant to keep the DeVos privatization agenda out of Maryland and ensure that over-testing truly becomes a thing of the past.

    That’s why we’re organizing Grassroots Organizing (GO) Teams of MSEA members who focus on statewide political, communications, and legislative campaigns. GO Team members get training for this important work and have access to association staff support, grants, and innovative campaign technologies.

    Want to make a difference? Learn more and apply today! Contact mdavis@mseanea.org for more info.


    What’s Next? was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  • MSEA and First Book

    Closing the gap with resources for students and educators

    As a volunteer in a community soup kitchen, Kyle Zimmer asked the children to bring in their favorite book. One little boy brought in a phone book — it was the only book in his house. The others came empty-handed, because there were no books at all in their homes.

    Zimmer started bringing as many books as she could with her to the soup kitchen, an effort that evolved into First Book — the educator-focused nonprofit that for over 25 years has distributed more than 160 million brand new books and resources. First Book reaches nearly one in four of the estimated 1.3 million edu­cators in the U.S. who serve kids in need from birth to age 18.

    As issues of institutional and systemic racism and bias are better acknowledged and accepted in school settings, so is the need for multicultural and inclusionary literature. First Book and other research provides insights from edu­cators about what it means to their diverse populations of disadvantaged students when they see “kids who look like me” in their literature, media, and textbooks. First Book’s evolu­tion and its growing partnership with educators has led them to a huge increase in bilingual and multicultural books and an expansion into inventory beyond books, like school supplies, coats, nonperishable food, laptops, and hygiene kits to support homeless students.

    In a First Book poll of educators serving children from low-income families, teachers validated the impact on their classrooms and programs: 87% of respondents said children’s interest in reading increased af­ter receiving resources from First Book, and 88% said First Book helps close the achievement gap for the kids they serve.

    MSEA’s exciting new partnership with First Book will provide support and resources to educators working in high poverty schools across the state.

    “We know that a great public school education can be a pathway out of poverty for students,” said MSEA President Betty Weller. “This partnership will help get needed resources immediately into the hands of educators and students.”

    Over the summer, MSEA and First Book will work together, gathering feed-back from educators on what specific types of resources they need and how this part­nership can provide them with effective, targeted, and relevant help beginning in the 2017–18 school year.

    Who Can Access First Book?

    Classroom teachers, parapro­fessionals, and media special­ists can register at firstbook.org/MSEA. In addition, Title I and Title I-eligible schools, and programs and classrooms where 70 percent or more of their class represents children in need, are eligible for First Book resources. Once regis­tered with First Book, members have two options to access books and resources:

    1. The First Book Market­place

    The Marketplace features more than 6,000 items, including First Book’s Stories For All ProjectTM collection of diverse and bilingual books. Non-book resources are found in the Marketplace.

    2. The First Book National Book Bank

    The nation’s first and only centralized distribution system for large-scale donations of children’s books from publishers. Books are free and available only in carton quantities; educators pay only for shipping and handling.

    By making new, high-quality books and educational resources available at the lowest possible prices, or for free, First Book helps reach more kids and enables resources to go further. And, knowing that teachers often spend out of their own pockets for what they need, First Book recruits spending power from partners to help defray the cost.


    MSEA and First Book was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  • Wicomico Education Support Professionals in a Fight for Fairness

    In Wicomico County, education support professionals (ESP) are rallying for just cause and bind­ing arbitration, rights that most other education employees in Maryland already have. If their fight for these rights is success­ful, Wicomico County will join Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore, and all but Anne Arundel and Harford counties in the rest of the state.

    Binding arbitration is a way to resolve an employment-related dispute outside of a courtroom with the assistance of a neutral third party with expertise in educational law and mutually agreed upon by the parties. Decisions made in binding arbitration are final and may be appealed to court under very limited circumstances.

    With 1,300 members, the Wicomico County Education Association (WCEA) represents both certificated and ESP mem­bers. At a May 9 rally before a school board meeting, educa­tors came together to ask for fairness for ESP. In 2009, MSEA members fought hard to win the right for ESP to include disci­pline for just cause as a manda­tory subject of bargaining with their school boards. The only way to ensure fairness in the enforcement of such language, however, is to combine it with a grievance process that ends in binding arbitration.

    “I want you to know that it is not our goal to find reasons to file a grievance or to unfairly proclaim an injustice,” WCEA’s Vice President for ESP Pamela Barclay told the rally crowd. “We are here to do the exact opposite: ask for fairness in hopes we won’t have to file a grievance. We are asking for a commitment to honor our nego­tiated agreement, and that the board does the right thing by agreeing to binding arbitration in our current negotiations.”


    Wicomico Education Support Professionals in a Fight for Fairness was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

  • Toolkit: Connecting Math with Students

    Meet Prince George’s County teacher Lawrence Williams

    Lawrence Williams is a fifth grade math teacher at Springhill Elementary School in Prince George’s County. What are some of the things in his toolkit?

    HOBERMAN SPHERE (See photo above) The bright colors of the Hoberman sphere grab students’ attention and expose multiple geometric shapes when the sphere is extended.

    CUISENAIRE RODS Cuisenaire rods are colorful and can be assigned any value. These are great manipulatives when teaching fractions and divisors.

    CUPS, PINTS, QUARTS, AND GALLONS When teaching engaging lessons on the customary units of capacity, I have the containers available to foster conceptualization and discovery learning with students.

    SIDEWALK CHALK On a sunny 80 degree day, we take the lesson outside and students use the ground as their scratch paper.

    YARN AND CLOTHES PINS I tried number lines on paper and the students were bored. Then I hung a string of yarn in my classroom and used that as my number line and clothes pins as my marks and students became instantly engaged!

    INTERLOCKING CUBES These cubes are amazing tools to highlight unit cubes, bases, and layers when teaching concepts of volume in rectangular prisms.


    Toolkit: Connecting Math with Students was originally published in MSEA Newsfeed on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Print ActionLine

Our magazine, ActionLine, is packed with the news you need to be an informed education professional.

We’ll keep you up-to-date on MSEA’s campaign for great public schools with member-focused feature stories, news from across the state, and the latest ideas, issues, and trends that affect you, your students, and your school. ActionLine is published five times a year.

Do you have a question or comment about an article in ActionLineContact the editor by email or at 443.433.3631.

Print Edition

June/July 2016 ActionLine

Someone has to take a stand.” Learn how Maryland kindergarten teachers took a stand against the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment when it interfered with essential instructional time. Discover how Ruthie the dog brought curriculum to life in an Allegany County elementary school? Read how to build a reflective practice with an end-of-the-year review. 

March/April 2016 ActionLine

One school in Prince George’s County is helping immigrant students thrive. MSEA’s testing campaign reached more than 1,000,000 Marylanders. MSEA is addressing new teacher induction issues. Learn more about equity literacy and how you can make a difference in your students’ success with culturally relevant instruction. ESPs scored a big victory from the Court of Appeals. Focus on educators from Dorchester and St. Mary’s counties. 

January/February 2016 ActionLine

Meet seven young activists who are setting the tone of 21st-century public education activism. MSEA meets the state commission and makes eight common sense recommendations for testing sanity. Learn more about the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. Retirees take off in Baltimore and Charles counties.