And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
MSEA and a strong coalition of allied groups and legislators are on the cusp of making great progress for anti-discrimination this week with the passage of House Bill 850. For several years, MSEA has championed this legislation that was first introduced by former state senator and current U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8th). MSEA has worked with Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery) and Senator Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City), along with coalition partners Disability Rights Maryland, ACLU, and FreeState Justice to advance this important bill.
This year, advocates on both sides of the bill were able to forge legislation that has made progress in both chambers. The legislation prohibits all publicly funded schools from discriminating based on race, ethnicity, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
After passing the House last month, the legislation went to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which made some amendments and advanced the bill on a bipartisan vote. On Thursday, the second reading on the Senate floor passed without any debate, and the legislation was on the Senate’s calendar for third reader on Friday.
MSEA celebrates progress with another of its priorities this week, legislation to improve wages for education support professionals (ESPs). MSEA fought for both the short- and long-term solutions that were introduced in Senate Bill 831, crossfiled with House Bill 1349. The House bill, sponsored by Delegate Shaneka Henson (D-Anne Arundel), is up for third reader in the Senate today. The Senate version, sponsored by Senator Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery), has been amended by the Ways and Means and Appropriations committees to be identical to the passed House bill.
Originally, the legislation included a plan to pay ESPs a $500 bonus in each of FY23 and FY24 and to form a workgroup, including MSEA representation, to examine statistics about, and develop solutions to, the unacceptably low wages of many ESPs. MSEA made this legislation a priority to address the crisis in ESP recruitment and retention. ESPs are essential to the daily functioning of our schools, whether they are driving buses, preparing and serving meals, assisting in the classroom, maintaining buildings and technology, keeping records and implementing protocols, or any of the many other critical roles they fill.
The version making its way to the governor has cut out the creation of the workgroup, keeps the $500 bonus plan for FY24, and makes the FY23 bonus subject to the already approved budget that includes just over $8 million for ESP bonuses. That is likely to cut the FY23 bonus to half of what we were originally seeking. Nevertheless, the bill lays the groundwork to improve ESP wages, and MSEA will keep up the fight for long-term ESP wage improvements at the local level through the collective bargaining process.
The final $61 billion budget signed by legislators and Gov. Hogan last week included the additional $800 million for out-year funding for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund, made possible by an estimated $7.5 billion general fund surplus across FY22 and FY23. The $800 million will make a significant contribution to sustaining the landmark Blueprint plan and ensure that more students in concentrated areas of poverty benefit from the expanded programs and staffing levels it legislates. The budget did not provide funding to hold locals harmless from drops in compensatory education due to enrollment counts that may not capture the true number of students who live in poverty. MABE and PSSAM, representing school boards and superintendents, had sought $134 million in hold harmless funds.
Legislation designed to alleviate the critical shortage of experienced educators has passed both chambers unanimously and will go to the governor. Senate Bill 410/House Bill 743 encourages experienced retired educators to fill vacancies that are multiplying as educators are leaving the profession earlier than planned and too few aspiring educators are in the pipeline to keep up with attrition and fill new positions. The law exempts a reemployed retired educator from the usual earnings cap for reemployment that occurs from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2024. The bills were sponsored by the Special Joint Subcommittee on Pensions chairs Senator Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) and Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City).
House Bill 172, sponsored by former public school teacher and House Majority Leader Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), passed on Thursday in the Senate in a 33-13 vote. It passed last month in the House in a 95-35 vote, and now returns to the House for review of the Senate amendments. The law would allow union dues up to $300 to be factored in as a subtraction modification from income taxes. Given the partisan nature of the vote, it is unclear what action Governor Hogan will take if the final bill makes it to his desk.
The National Education Association (NEA) celebrated the historic confirmation on Thursday of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appointment represents overdue progress toward seeing the U.S. justice system better reflect the population it serves. “A daughter of public-school teachers and a product of public schools herself, Judge Jackson’s story is the story of all of us who have overcome great obstacles in the pursuit of making our country a better, more equitable place for all,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona acknowledged the shortage of educators to fill positions nationwide and called on states to use federal coronavirus relief funds to address that and the need to creatively address the effects of the pandemic on students. “I have always known that a well-prepared, well-supported, well-compensated, and diverse educator workforce is the foundation for student success,” he wrote. “Educator vacancies and other staff shortages represent a real challenge as our schools work to recover, falling hardest on students of color, students in rural communities, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and multilingual learners.”
Hogan signed into law the new congressional district map that legislators passed last week, and the attorney general’s office dropped an appeal of the ruling that required the new map. The congressional district map is predicted to create more competition in the Second, Third, Fifth, and Sixth congressional districts and leaves the First District, now held by the state’s only Republican representative, more heavily Republican.
The Maryland Court of Appeals must now rule on the new state legislative district map that was challenged in four petitions after the General Assembly adopted it in January. The Republican plaintiffs contended that the map violates the Maryland Constitution’s requirement that legislative districts be compact and respect natural and political boundaries. On Monday, an advisor to the Court of Appeals recommended rejecting all four cases against the map.
Candidates have an April 15 filing deadline, and a primary that has already been pushed back to July 19. The continued court review could delay those dates yet again this cycle.
Endorsements in the governor’s race include MSEA for Wes Moore; in the attorney general’s race MSEA, SEIU 32BJ, SEIU 1199, and VoteVets for Democrat Anthony Brown; and in the comptroller’s race, MSEA and Communications Workers of America (CWA) Maryland/DC Council and CWA locals 2100, 2105, 2106, 2107, 2108 and 2336 for Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City).