And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
About 500 public school educators, parents, and students from around the state packed and cheered at a pre-hearing rally for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and fully funding the Kirwan recommendations that will give Maryland a world-class public school system. Chants of “our children can’t wait” echoed from the pep rally throughout Annapolis. This historic opportunity and the groundswell of support attracted TV, radio, and print media outlets from around the state and Metro region.
After the pep rally, four legislative committees held a six-hour hearing with 130 witnesses (all but one of whom testified in support) to give the Blueprint legislation a full vetting. The bill was presented by Dr. Brit Kirwan, who took questions around the details and goals of the bill. He was followed by panels of local elected officials, school superintendents, educators, business and community leaders, students, parents, researchers, and many others. Speakers assured legislators that the investments called for in the bill are not only worth making, but are a moral, educational, and economic imperative for the future of our state.
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.
A panel of educators, including MSEA President Cheryl Bost, Vice President Doug Prouty, PGCEA President Theresa Dudley, and Howard County math teacher Maleeta Kitchen, offered strong testimony in support of the Blueprint bill. Our written testimony did identify areas in the bill that would be strengthened with amendments, including changes to the funding formula to make it more equitable for poorer jurisdictions; major changes to the career ladder proposal to empower collective bargaining to develop the details of the promotion and pay increase process; clarifying the role and voice of local educators as part of the new Accountability and Implementation Board; and limiting the role of the State Board of Education in making unilateral decisions on teacher licensure and curriculum issues. Other good amendments (and some bad ones) will be subject to debate and discussion through a House committee workgroup made up of members of the House Appropriations and Ways and Means education subcommittees that will continue meeting through next week to get the bill ready for debate in the full House in early March.
Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates proposed House Bill 1628 to cut the sales tax rate from 6 cents on the dollar to 5 cents. The legislation also expands that lower sales tax rate to professional services that currently are untaxed, including legal services, accounting, engineering, and other business-to-business services. The legislation exempts services related to health care, education, and non-profits, which would continue to be untaxed. The Department of Legislative Services projects that this reduction and expansion plan would increase the average family’s tax burden by $3 per week (or $156 per year) and raise billions of dollars in new revenue as a full funding source to pay for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
This legislation is not the only proposed funding mechanism for the Blueprint, but it is the most expansive. MSEA and many other Blueprint advocates strongly support this plan and will advocate action in the General Assembly to pass this bill or other revenues necessary to fully fund the 10-year phase in of the new school funding formula.
Last Friday, on a vote of 128–6, the House of Delegates passed the Built to Learn Act (House Bill 1), legislation that will increase school construction funding by $2.2 billion over five years. This funding would be in addition to the state’s existing school construction funding and could be used to support renovations as well as to ease crowding or replace aging buildings with new construction projects. The legislation was cross-filed as Senate Bill 1 and has support from Senate leaders as well as Gov. Hogan.
On Monday, Gov. Hogan appointed Richard P. Henry to be the first inspector general for education, effective March 4. Henry currently serves as executive director of the Maryland State Department of Education’s Office of Compliance and Monitoring, and had a 30-year career in federal law enforcement. The inspector general is jointly appointed to a five-year term by the governor, the attorney general, and the state treasurer.
Last week, House Republicans held a press conference announcing the minority party’s education priorities for this session, including legislation targeting disruption in the classroom and the creation of new massive voucher programs. While not dismissing the need for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, Republicans say that proposal was too long term and they wanted to focus on this agenda instead. The bills include House Bill 802, the Good Teacher Protection Act, that MSEA offered supportive testimony on this week. The other legislation either has not been introduced or will earn opposition testimony from MSEA. Two of the bills that we plan to oppose (HB 1624 and HB 1625) expand voucher programs that direct state money to nonpublic schools.
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. 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:
• Dramatically increasing educator pay
• Hiring thousands more educators to increase individual attention for students and to expand teacher planning and collaboration time
• Expanding career technical education, community schools, and pre-k
• More equitably funding schools by delivering additional resources to schools with higher levels of poverty
• Providing more support and staffing for special education and mental health services
• Adding new accountability measures to ensure that the new funding reaches classrooms rather than central offices
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 the Blueprint and a new funding formula that will be a game-changer for our students and schools.