And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
Just a week ago, the House of Delegates passed House Bill 1300, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, rejecting dozens of floor amendments before sending the bill to the Senate. Failed amendments involved “checkpoint” initiatives that would slow the rate of funding increases in later years. The Senate has resurrected some of those amendments and others that we oppose and do not improve the bill. If the full Senate passes the bill this weekend or early next week, a conference committee will convene to work out differences between the House and Senate on a final bill.
We’re pleased that the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee and the Budget and Taxation Committee adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D, District 9-Howard and Carroll counties) to assure that the Accountability and Implementation Board “may not usurp the lawful collective bargaining process due school employees in the state.” Additionally, with the help of Sen. Mary Washington (D, District 43-Baltimore City) and Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D, District 30-Anne Arundel), senators held over an amendment to increase ESP wages by $3/hour as a subject that could be discussed by the conference committee on the bill.
There is still a lot to get right before final passage. MSEA opposes the “checkpoint” proposal offered by the Senate. This measure would dismantle the program if any targets were not met and/or if dedicated funding were not sufficient to meet the fiscal year 2026 cost estimates. Failure to fund will lead to failure of the Blueprint and expressing such uncertainty in bill language weakens the state’s commitment. We also oppose giving preferential status to the governor’s representatives on the Accountability and Implementation Board nominating committee. We support a more broad-based, equitable selection process to populate the all-important seven-member oversight board. We also support the House action to enhance the influence of the Professional Standards for Teachers and Education Board (PSTEB) on matters related to teacher certification and licensure. The Senate version reverses this change and empowers the State Board of Education to overrule the advice and actions of PSTEB. We will continue to push for strong educator voices in state education policy and the implementation of the Blueprint.
The Blueprint is based on the findings of the Kirwan Commission and would revise the state’s school funding formula for the first time in nearly two decades. Over the next 10 years, the Blueprint calls for billions of dollars of new investment in Maryland schools that would comprehensively address the chronic underfunding of Maryland public schools. We still need to raise our voices to make sure that it passes, so our schools and students get the funding and support that they deserve! Click here to email your legislators and urge them to pass the Blueprint.
The situation changes almost hourly, but Annapolis, like most of the country, is responding with calm and caution to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On Thursday, the governor and state school, health, and government representatives announced government and school closures. Gov. Hogan has put the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) at its highest activation level to fully coordinate with counties, and he activated the National Guard to carry out any needed functions. The State House and legislative buildings are closed to the public and the rest of the session schedule is in doubt as of this writing. The public may submit written and electronic testimony. MSEA members and locals that have planned for lobby nights should cancel those plans and instead focus on calls and emails to their delegates and senators to help with our advocacy efforts. State School Superintendent Karen Salmon announced that public schools will be closed March 16 through March 27 to disinfect schools and buses.
The best source for local COVID-19 information is the State Health Department. The National Education Association also offers some NEA-related COVID-19 information that school employees may find helpful.
On Thursday, the Senate passed an amended version of the governor’s fiscal year 2021 budget. The House will take it up immediately, as this is a must-pass bill as part of the legislature’s constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget. Within the budget, state aid for public schools based on the old formulas are funded, as are the mandated programs that were passed in last year’s Blueprint legislation to expand community schools, increase access to pre-k, and improve funding for students receiving special education services. The Senate version restores funding the governor had proposed to cut from several health and social services and cultural organizations. MSEA continues to oppose the governor’s proposal to fund the BOOST voucher program at $10 million, an element that the Senate did not adjust.
Some families have been cashing in on a loophole that allowed unlimited numbers of 529 Education Savings accounts to be opened for a single beneficiary and to collect hundreds of dollars in state bonuses on each account. The House will consider SB 615 that the Senate passed Wednesday to limit the number of accounts to two per beneficiary that could benefit from the state saving incentive bonus. In 2019, Maryland decided to offer incentives to families to save for college in tax-free 529 savings accounts. The state offers $500 to account holders who make a $100 minimum deposit into a 529 account and have individual income or married combined income up to $112,000 or $125,000, respectively, or, for a minimum deposit of $250, a couple making up to $175,000 will receive $250 from the state.
On Monday, the Senate Nominations Committee finally received the formal appointment paperwork for Rachel McCusker to take her rightful place on the Maryland State Board of Education (SBOE). She was elected by educators across the state at the end of 2019, two years after educators started lobbying to get an educator’s voice on the SBOE. After the full Senate confirms her, she will be the first active teacher to serve on the board. Her term will run through June 2022. McCusker is a vocal music teacher in Carroll County at Linton Springs Elementary School. She will be joined by a new parent member, Lori Morrow, who was nominated to the governor by the state PTA to serve on the board for a term running through June 2023.
Anyone associated with education has a stake in the completion of the 2020 Census. We support the state’s resolution to ensure an accurate census count is accomplished this year, for the well-being of children in particular. Marylanders can respond and complete the census online, by phone, or by mail.
The strength of public schools depends on the precise count of Marylanders, which determines federal funding to alleviate poverty and guarantee public services are sufficient to meet a population’s need. Tens of billions of dollars for poverty relief will be distributed based on the Census data. An accurate count is essential to assuring that resources for schools are distributed appropriately. Unfortunately, the 2010 Census missed 10% of children under the age of five, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The missed, hard-to-count population included the most vulnerable children in need of the most resources, including English language learners and those in transient living conditions. That population tends to experience more adverse childhood experiences, which can negatively affect their whole lives. We all benefit and depend on an accurate census.