Big Wins for Schools in Budget

And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street


Big Wins for Schools in Budget

For the past few weeks we have written about differences between the House and Senate budgets. Early this week, representatives of both chambers hammered out those differences in conference committee and agreed to the final budget that cleared the Senate unanimously (46–0) and the House with more than 90% of the chamber’s votes (122–13). Here are the big take-aways on the bipartisan budget agreement:

· Thanks to inflation, growing enrollment (especially among students living in poverty and learning English as a second language), the passage of Question 1 at the ballot last fall, and implementation of many Kirwan Commission recommendations, funding for public schools cleared the $7 billion threshold for the first time in state history. That includes $255 million above mandated formulas specifically aimed at raising teacher salaries, expanding pre-kindergarten, hiring community school and health coordinators, adding more special education staff, and other research-based strategies for improving schools. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future legislation (HB 1413/SB 1030) will determine exactly how that funding gets divided up between those purposes.

· The budget was also big on the school construction side, including $500 million for new buildings and learning facilities. This is well above the $400 million school construction floor vetoed by Gov. Hogan and then put into effect with a veto override by the legislature last year.

· After the House version of the budget moved to begin phasing out the BOOST private school voucher program — reducing its funding to $5.5 million — and the Senate voted to increase from $7 million to $10 million, the conference committee settled on $6.6 million. This is the first time since the program was created through the FY17 budget that funding has decreased from the year before, which is a good sign that support in the legislature is waning.

**Action Needed**

Getting $255 million for public schools and our students in the FY20 budget is a good first step, but we need to make sure a long-term commitment is made to the Kirwan Commission’s Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. We raised our voices at the March for Our Schools, now it’s time to raise our voices again to make sure that we get this legislation across the finish line and add much-needed new funding to our schools. Click here to email your legislators!

Rinse and Repeat: Hogan Vetoes, General Assembly Overrides

If it’s a General Assembly session under Gov. Hogan, it means short-lived vetoes are bound to happen at some point. Out of dozens of bills passed in time for the presentment deadline — the day by which the legislature needs to present passed bills in time for the governor to veto and the House and Senate to override before session ends — the governor vetoed three high-profile bills Wednesday afternoon, two of which are of strong importance to public school educators and students:

· Fight for $15 Minimum Wage (HB 166/SB 280): Sponsored by Del. Diana Fennell (D-Prince George’s-District 47A) and Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City-District 45), this legislation gradually raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2025. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees will have until July 1, 2026 to reach $15 an hour. Many education support professionals paid by the hour will see important raises from this bill.

· Community Control of School Calendars Act (SB 128): Sponsored by Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s-District 22), this legislation returns authority over school calendar decisions to local boards of education and their stakeholder planning committees. It effectively repeals Gov. Hogan’s executive order forcing school districts to start their academic years after Labor Day and end by June 15.

The legislature took up veto override votes starting yesterday morning. The House voted to override the Fight for $15 bill with a 96–43 vote (85 votes in the House are required for an override) and the school calendar bill with a 93–43 vote. The Senate voted to override the Fight for $15 bill with a 32–15 vote (29 votes in the Senate are required for an override) and the school calendar bill with a 32–15 vote.

The Community Control of School Calendars Act, now enacted, is an emergency bill and therefore goes into effect immediately. Districts that have finalized calendars will now have the opportunity to revisit their plans with the increased flexibility for the 2019–2020 school year and can take advantage of the provisions of this law in starting the calendar committee process for the 2020–2021 school year.

The Fight for $15 bill will raise the minimum wage for education support professionals who make less than $15 an hour along the following timeline: $11.00 by 2020, $11.75 by 2021, $12.50 by 2022, $13.25 by 2023, $14.00 by 2024, and $15.00 by 2025. This is an important step toward living wages and MSEA will continue to work with local associations to bargain contracts that work toward that goal for all school employees.


House Leaders, County Executives Pitch Build to Learn Act in Senate

While legislators agreed on $500 million for school construction projects in this year’s budget, the House has passed legislation (HB 727) sponsored by Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery-District 15) — called the Build to Learn Act — to issue an additional $2.2 billion in revenue bonds in the coming years to narrow a $4 billion school facilities backlog. Under the bill, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County would receive $400 million, Anne Arundel County would receive $251 million, Howard County would receive $99 million, Frederick County would receive $75 million, and all other counties would receive a combined $174 million.

The bill received a hearing on Wednesday, and House leaders were joined by six county executives in making the case to the Senate Budget and Tax Committee. MSEA supports the legislation.

House Reprimands Del. Jay Jalisi for Bullying Staff

This week, the House of Delegates made their second disciplinary move of the session when they reprimanded Del. Jay Jalisi (D-Baltimore County-District 10) for a “pattern of verbal abuse, controlling and belligerent behavior” aimed at his staff. The reprimand follows a 16-page report detailing Del. Jalisi’s abusive behavior issued by the Joint Ethics Committee.

Earlier this session, the chamber censured Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford-District 34A) and removed her from all committees for using a racial slur in reference to Prince George’s County. MSEA has joined many groups and leaders in urging Del. Lisanti to resign, but she has declined to do so.

House Passes Ready to Read Act

An under-the-radar education bill championed by House Education Subcommittee Chairman Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery-District 14) and Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery-District 14) named the Ready to Read Act (HB 690/SB 734) passed the House this week unanimously (137–0) after passing the Senate unanimously (46–0) earlier in the month. The legislation would require school districts, starting in the 2020–2021 school year, to screen all students for reading difficulties and provide supplemental reading instruction for those who do not meet grade level. Following our work and advocacy with the Dyslexia Task Force over the last few years, MSEA supports this legislation.