And other legislative updates as the General Assembly adjourns Sine Die
As the clock strikes midnight on another legislative session, we already know the 439th General Assembly session will be remembered as the beginning and end of eras. This is the 17th straight session in which “The Mikes” — House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. — have led their chambers. That comes to an end with the heartbreaking passing of Speaker Busch this weekend.
At the same time, due to the leadership of these two public servants, the legislature has kickstarted a new era in education: the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Since the Bridge to Excellence Act passed in 2002 — the last legislative session before Busch became speaker — Maryland public schools have received state and county funding through the Thornton Formula. That major funding achievement was implemented under Busch and Miller’s watch from 2003–2008 and Maryland’s public schools rose from the low 30s to the top ten in National Assessment of Educational Progress rankings.
But then the Great Recession hit and while the state did everything it could to protect education, the legislature and the governor limited growth in the Thornton Formula. That continued as the state recovered slowly and more so after the federal sequester disproportionally harmed Maryland’s economy. All the while, the number of students coming from low-income families and learning English as a second language spiked, and we adopted much higher learning standards. By 2016, we learned that the Thornton Formula had grown so outdated that the average school in Maryland was being underfunded by $2 million each year.
The Kirwan Commission has since been created and worked to develop a new funding formula that will implement comprehensive policy changes based on strategies that have worked in the world’s top-performing school systems. While the commission has not been able to finish work on a new funding formula, it has released a final policy blueprint — now known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future — and the legislature passed a bill this session to implement and fund the beginning of that plan.
The Kirwan Commission recommendations dominated the education debate in this year’s session, but we had many other victories. Thousands of education support professionals who make less than $15 an hour will see a raise after the state passed the Fight for $15. School construction funding grew to $500 million — a level we could only dream of reaching just a few short years ago. We will go from having current teachers prohibited from sitting on the State Board of Education to having one become a member for the first time. More updates follow in this year’s Sine Die edition of Up the Street.
As always, this 2019 Priorities Tracker document provides information on the final status of priority bills we were working and watching throughout the last 90 days. It is updated as of 10:00 PM on Monday night.
It is impossible to reflect on the 2019 legislative session without recognizing the difficult news on the passing of House Speaker Michael E. Busch and health challenges of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. On the day before Sine Die, Speaker Busch died after complications of pneumonia that followed previous health challenges after a liver transplant two years ago. His public and successful battles over the years earned him the nickname of “Iron Mike.” He was a former teacher and coach and successfully led the House chamber as a progressive champion and stalwart of public education since 2003. The longest-serving Speaker in Maryland history was respected for his leadership, honesty, and progressive drive to make Maryland a national leader in education, health care, and the environment. The final day of session brought tears and tributes to a man everyone in his chamber viewed as their “coach.” Speaker Busch’s brand of politics, leadership, and friendship will be dearly missed. MSEA joins Marylanders across the state and across the political spectrum in honoring a giant of a man and sending our love and support to his family and staff.
As for President Miller, at the start of the legislative session, he shared his diagnosis of stage 4 prostate cancer. He has received five rounds of chemotherapy and his office announced last week that after session he will start receiving radiation treatment. Miller has shown great strength in presiding over floor debates throughout the 90-day session. Nobody has more passion for the important work of the State Senate than Miller, and his entire career has been spent finding common ground to move the state forward. He adds to his legacy each day, and we stand with him in his cancer battle so there are more days ahead for him to demonstrate his leadership and commitment to our schools and state.
Between the budget and the Blueprint bill (SB 1030), the Kirwan Commission recommendations are now off and running. Here’s what we accomplished this session with this legislation:
The Kirwan Blueprint called for an 11-year implementation timeline between now and 2030, with funding increasing by $3.8 billion split between the state and county governments. State funding would increase by $325 million in the 2019–2020 school year, $750 million in 2020–2021, and up from there.
The original legislation had these funding targets for the first two years, but legislators were wary of creating mandates without identified funding sources and decided to slow down what they were willing to commit to this year.
The bill, and the corresponding Fiscal Year 2020 budget, now provides a $255 million increase in 2019–2020, $355 million in 2020–2021, and $500 million in 2022. That totals $1.1 billion and puts the Blueprint on a path to be implemented on schedule, albeit more gradually than originally proposed. The funding increases are paid for by a combination of casino revenue, a $200 million set-aside in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, and an adjustment to online sales tax compliance.
One of the major findings of the Kirwan Commission was how underpaid teachers are in Maryland compared to those in high-performing school systems — both internationally and in the United States. So the Commission recommended that Maryland increase its teacher salaries by 10% above normal rates of increase in the next three years: 3% in 2019–2020, 3% in 2020–2021, and 4% in 2021–2022.
Since teacher salaries in Maryland have increased by an annual average of about 1.5% since 2012–2013, that means teachers would need to see a 4.5% increase to realize the commission’s recommendation. The legislation makes this happen by providing an additional 1.5% raise if school systems provide a 3% increase (the 1.5% usual increase and a 1.5% local bump). All certificated educators in teacher bargaining units (but not administrators) are eligible for the raise.
As the commission wrestled with how to close opportunity gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers, a consensus quickly grew around the community school model. As defined in the bill, a community school “establishes a set of strategic partnerships between the school and other community resources that promote student achievement, positive learning conditions, and the well-being of students by providing wraparound services.”
The commission recommended that every school with low-income students making up 55% or more of its student population would receive funding for a community schools coordinator and a health services practitioner. They would also receive, on a sliding scale, additional funding to provide services identified in a needs assessment.
The legislation begins phasing in that idea, starting with schools that have low-income students making up 80% or more of their student population. That means 219 schools will qualify next school year (2019–2020) and 235 schools are projected to qualify the year after (2020–2021). The vast majority of these schools are in Baltimore City (130) and Prince George’s County (45), though 15 counties will receive funding for at least one school next year.
There is $32 million included to convert more half-day pre-kindergarten for low-income four-year-olds to full-day. This is estimated to grow to $59 million in the 2020–2021 school year with further expansion. These are the first steps towards a targeted public pre-kindergarten program that covers all three- and four-year-olds below 300% of the poverty line at no cost, as well as four-year-olds between 300–600% of the poverty line for a sliding scale fee.
The bill contains $65 million to fund special education services in both the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 school years. School districts are not required to fund any specific strategies so long as the funding is used to fully implement individualized education plans and 504 plans. But with special educators severely overworked, it would be smart for districts to use additional funding to hire more special education staff.
The legislation includes $23 million to fund in-school tutoring services for K-3 students performing below grade level in English or math. It’s very possible that school districts will hire additional paraeducators to provide this one-on-one and small group tutoring.
The bill also includes $2.5 million to incentivize the creation of new teacher mentorship programs and teacher career ladders, and $2 million to fund a mental health services coordinator in every school district.
The bill does include one major feature that is not included in the Kirwan Commission interim report. In an effort to bring Gov. Hogan on board, the legislature added in one of his education proposals: the creation of an inspector general (IG) to investigate instances of fraud, waste, and abuse in schools.
Instead of giving the governor complete control over the selection of this IG — as his proposal did — the bill creates a more independent process in which the position is filled by a unanimous vote between the governor, the treasurer, and the attorney general. This structure follows a successful model in Massachusetts.
The IG would have subpoena power and would be tasked primarily with ensuring compliance with laws and discovering the misuse of public funds. The bill creates a separate auditing process for districts to demonstrate they are using the funding for the specific policies outlined in the law.
The bill passed the House 114–20 and the Senate 45–0 and now goes to the governor. Gov. Hogan can sign, veto, or allow the bill to go into law without his signature. He likely has until mid-May to decide, though that depends on when the bill is officially presented to his office.
The governor has one other major job to do here: he has to approve the funding passed in the budget that allows these programs to happen. That budget passed unanimously in the Senate and with more than 90% of votes in the House, so withholding funding would go against a strong bipartisan consensus. While Gov. Hogan can choose to announce his decision earlier, he has until summer to take action.
While our push for an education support professional living wage law (HB 479/SB 424) failed to pass for a second year, we did make a significant difference for ESP wages by passing the Fight for $15. It took a veto override vote after Gov. Hogan opposed the measure (HB 166), but Maryland’s minimum wage will now gradually increase to $15 an hour, lifting wages for thousands of hourly employed ESPs — and many more who make more than $15 and will almost certainly see raises as districts adjust their pay scales. The minimum wage will increase from $10.10 an hour to $11.00 in 2020, $11.75 in 2021, $12.50 in 2022, $13.25 in 2023, $14.00 in 2024, and $15 in 2025.
But we know this only covers some of the more than 24,000 ESP who do not make a living wage. MSEA is studying how we can adjust our bargaining strategies at the local level to prioritize ESP living wages in the context of everything we negotiate for at the table.
While we primarily share news from the state legislature and the governor, much of statewide education policy is set by the State Board of Education, the body that governs the Maryland State Department of Education. Unfortunately, Gov. Hogan has stacked that group of policymakers with appointees you’d expect to see on a private school board, not a public school board. Just two of twelve members have ever worked in a Maryland public school and both have been out of this informative environment for several decades. It’s no wonder that education reform has been ineffective in recent history when you realize it has been set without the input of those who actually have to implement the policy.
That’s why it is so important that we passed legislation (HB 87/SB 529) this session to put a current teacher on the State Board of Education. Who gets to select that teacher? All certificated teachers in the state. The bill sets up a selection process in which any current certificated teacher can run in an election of their peers — ensuring the person selected is truly representative. The bill also adds a seat for a parent of a current public school student.
Gov. Hogan vetoed similar legislation last year, so it is unclear whether he will allow the bill to become law. But we are hopeful that the bill’s unanimous vote in the Senate is an indication that the governor will take a bipartisan course of action and include an active teacher’s voice on the state school board.
This session’s school funding conversation was not just about salaries, staffing, and programs — it was also about facilities. Faced with a $4 billion backlog and stories about mold, lead-piped water fountains, and trailers, the legislature far surpassed a previous one-year total by dedicating $500 million for school construction in this year’s budget.
But with the conversation tied to the yet to be determined Kirwan funding formula, action on long-term plans to eat into the backlog was delayed to next year. The Build to Learn Act (HB 727), which would have used $125 million of lottery revenues each year to generate $2.2 billion in new revenue bonds for the purposes of school construction, failed to move in the Senate after being prioritized in the House.
Since the BOOST private school voucher program was created in the FY17 budget, MSEA has tried to shift those taxpayer dollars back to public schools. But the program has gained funding since, going from $5 million in that first year to $7 million in the FY19 budget.
This year, we turned a corner. The House voted to begin phasing out the program in their budget and ultimately got the first decrease in funding since the program started, with $6.6 million going to the failed program in the FY20 budget.
While schools walk a difficult balancing act on student discipline issues, the legislature moved two ideas forward designed to take a more healing-focused approach. One bill (HB 725) passed on Sine Die will require all school districts to include the use of “restorative approaches” in their student discipline practices. The model requires a more proactive and preventative approach to discipline that focuses more on addressing the trauma causing students to misbehave rather than a punitive measure that may not prevent further discipline problems. Unfortunately, the bill does not have corresponding funding needed for additional staffing or training needed to truly carry out such a scaled-up change.
Another bill (HB 256) aimed to advance a similar school model called “trauma-informed schools.” According to analysis of the legislation, “A trauma-informed school is a school that: acknowledges the widespread impact of trauma and understands the potential paths for recovery; recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in students, teachers, and staff; integrates information about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and actively resists re-traumatizing a student, teacher, or staff member who has experienced trauma.” This bill did not pass, but language emphasizing the need for trauma-informed practices was included in the larger Blueprint legislation.
The March for Our Schools was the largest rally in Annapolis in nearly a decade and helped demonstrate the broad grassroots support that fueled passage of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. MSEA led turnout efforts of more than 8,500 educators, parents, students, and public education advocates to march on Annapolis and urge immediate action to increase school funding because our kids can’t keep waiting to solve the broken funding formula hurting our schools. The success of the march and the overwhelming, bipartisan passage of the legislation empowers the members and partners who participated in the rally. Those efforts will need to continue throughout 2019 and in the 2020 legislative session to educate the public, policymakers, and voters about the importance of continuing the work of the Kirwan Commission and actions to advance the next phase of the Blueprint.
From lobby nights nearly every week of session, to emails and phone calls to legislators, educators’ voices were heard in the halls of Annapolis and helped move some of our critical wins. Education support professionals offered some of the most compelling testimony of the session in our fight to create a living wage requirement and pass the Fight for $15 minimum wage bill. President Bost represented members well when testifying on our priorities and as an effective coalition partner when testifying alongside Casa de Maryland for the Dream Act and Maryland PTA for the bill to add a teacher and parent to the State Board of Education. Thank you to everyone who contacted their legislators and helped advance our aggressive agenda this session. Your advocacy is the most important part of our lobbying efforts and we could not have won the important victories of this session without you.