And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
Join hundreds of public school educators, parents, and students from around the state on Monday, February 17 to rally in support for this generation’s foremost education legislation, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Organizers ask anyone interested in joining the pep rally to organize at the House Office Building at 10 a.m. Pep rally speakers will include Kirwan Commission Chairman Dr. Brit Kirwan and Baltimore County teacher and MSEA President Cheryl Bost, as well as a parent and student. Following the pep rally, supporters are encouraged to join the bill hearing in the Joint Hearing Room at noon or to watch in overflow space back in the House Office Building.
The Blueprint (HB 1300/SB 1000) 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 expand career and technical education programs, community schools, and pre-k; provide more resources for students from backgrounds of poverty and students with special needs; increase educator pay; hire more educators; create a new and rigorous accountability system; and a number of other research-backed strategies for improving schools. The Blueprint would comprehensively address the several billion dollars in annual underfunding of Maryland public schools, according to an independent study overseen by the Maryland State Department of Education.
As the Blueprint legislation gets a full vetting and there is an opportunity for legislative leaders to offer their thoughts, several in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County said they are optimistic that they will be able to make adjustments to the funding formula that would relieve some of the costs from jurisdictions that have maxed out their taxing capacity and shift those costs to the state. The proposed new formula already has the state covering about two-thirds of the full costs, but the amendments suggested to the formula could work to make it even more fair and equitable. These amendments are expected to be part of subcommittee and full committee discussions over the next three weeks in the House of Delegates.
We learned a lot from a budget analysis of the State Retirement and Pension System this week. The system earned a net investment return of 6.4% in FY19 and the value of the invested assets grew by about $2.1 billion, for a total fund value of $53.9 billion. The system is currently 72% funded and a little ahead of schedule to meet the goal of achieving the gold standard of 80% funded by fiscal year 2026 and hitting 100% funded status by fiscal 2039. Unfortunately the return on investment this year did not meet the actuarial target of 7.45% or the policy benchmark of 7.09%. This puts the fund in the 60th percentile in terms of investment performance among public pension funds with at least $25 billion in assets. The active membership currently stands at 193,458, with retirees comprising 46% of the membership in 2019. This is an increase in retirees, while the active members have flattened. A flat trendline for active members means that less payroll is supporting retiree benefits, resulting in higher employer contribution rates.
Anne Arundel teacher Jorge Cordoba testified this week in support of House Bill 403, legislation that aims to make sure that school buildings are places for learning and not for immigration enforcement actions. Cordoba spoke of the importance of schools being a safe haven for students and their families who learn and participate in school activities and the educators who work there. A similar bill passed the House of Delegates last session but did not make it through the State Senate.
For the last 13 years, Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities about been in court demanding equity in funding for higher education. Settlement proposals over the years from both Governors O’Malley and Hogan have been completely inadequate, and this week, Speaker Adrienne Jones entered the mix with a legislative solution. House Bill 1260 would push the parties to settle in exchange for $577 million over the next ten years. This total is in keeping with the goals of the colleges and we expect it will earn their full support. MSEA continues to be supportive of a settlement that finally addresses the inequitable funding at Maryland’s HBCUs and we see it as a real opportunity to also expand investment in the teacher preparation programs at each of the four HBCUs that would help accomplish another goal of diversifying the pipeline of teachers and other educators who will work in our public schools.
The Maryland State House has been the location of many historic moments, and Monday was another day to add to the list when the General Assembly convened a joint session of the House and Senate to unveil statues of former fugitive slaves Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. As the Baltimore Sun reported, the statues now stand in a place of honor in a State House that they would not have even been allowed to enter until November 1864. The statues are based off of what Tubman and Douglass looked like 150+ years ago when Maryland officially abolished legal slavery. This unveiling was part of an ongoing effort for the State House grounds to better recognize the full picture of Maryland history, including honoring the critical contributions of black Marylanders while also taking important steps to remove commemorations of the Confederacy.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Maryland last updated how we fund our schools. In recent years, funding has become woefully inadequate and inequitable — and it shows:
The General Assembly can change that by revising Maryland’s school funding formula. And to demonstrate the broad-based support and ensure voices of educators and pro-public education allies are reflected in the final proposal, we must make our voices are heard.
Here’s what a new funding formula would mean:
Our kids can’t wait any longer for the funding and support that they deserve! Click here to email your legislators and urge them to pass a new funding formula that will be a game-changer for our students and schools.