And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
The state budget continues to advance towards the finish line, following its passage by the House last Friday. In Gov. Moore’s submitted fiscal year 2024 budget, public education is fully funded, education support professionals will have their $1,000 bonuses that were passed last year but shortchanged by Gov. Hogan fully funded, and the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund is poised to get hundreds of millions of dollars in forward funding to shore up its fiscal sustainability. Moore added $500 million in forward funding in the budget he presented, and the House version of the budget that passed last week added $400 million more, for a total of $900 million in forward funding. On Thursday, the Senate passed a budget that cut that increase by $100 million. A joint legislative conference committee will negotiate on and settle that and other differences between the House and Senate versions.
One of those differences includes spending on the BOOST private school vouchers program that takes public money from public schools to use in private schools. The Senate version of the budget adds money to the misguided voucher program that Gov. Moore cut and eliminates the phase-out of the program that both the governor and House have approved. In the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee vote on the budget, public education allies who voted against adding BOOST funding and against rescinding the phase-out language were Chair Guy Guzzone (D-Howard) and Senators Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s), Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), Nancy King (D-Montgomery), and Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery).
After being heavily amended in the House, Moore’s Educator Shortage Act (House Bill 1219) crossed over to the Senate prior to Crossover Day on Monday. Even as amended it preserves the goals of addressing the shortage and diversifying the educator pipeline. An improvement to the legislation includes an increase in loan assistance and eligibility for mental health professionals with student debt. As the legislation is considered in the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee and the Budget and Taxation Committee, MSEA is working to restore the standalone Grow Your Own program to support education support professionals who want to become certificated teachers, a provision that the House unfortunately removed from the governor’s original bill.
Also crossing over was Senate Bill 735, sponsored by Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery), and which would establish a workgroup to address education support professional wages. The House Ways and Means and Appropriations committees were assigned the bill, which had also been crossfiled as House Bill 1234, sponsored by Del. Melissa Wells (D-Baltimore City). The workgroup would make recommendations to the General Assembly for future legislation, and MSEA would have a seat on the workgroup.
Earlier today House Bill 984, the Public Employee Relations Act sponsored by Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s), was approved unanimously by the Appropriations Committee, thanks to the leadership of Chair Ben Barnes (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) and Del. Lewis. One of MSEA’s legislative priorities, HB984 and the crossfiled Senate Bill 367, sponsored by Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel), responds to the growing movement in the country to give workers a more meaningful seat at the table, enhance transparency, and improve fairness. We are hopeful for a path to pass this legislation in the Senate as MSEA, AFSCME Council 3, and legislators find ways to merge the assortment of three state labor relations laws into a single, standardized, and modernized framework for public employee collective bargaining.
In the bill, Maryland’s disconnected three public employee labor boards—the State Labor Relations Board, the State Higher Education Labor Relations Board, and the Public School Labor Relations Board—would become a more effective single board. These boards are understaffed and unduly divided, which limits labor and management’s ability to have fair and timely resolution of disputes over contracts, unit clarifications, unfair labor practices, and bargaining.
Last week Senate Bill 610, sponsored by Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City and Baltimore County), a bill Gov. Hogan vetoed last year that would establish guardrails around virtual education, passed out of the Senate. The House Ways and Means Committee now has the bill. MSEA is optimistic that this legislation will pass, assuring that there is strict guidance for districts that establish virtual schools to ensure that they reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of each county, exclude for-profit providers, and employ local school district staff.
In a deeply disappointing move opposed by a wide range of education groups and advocates, over the crossover weekend the House passed House Bill 294, which would shift the burden of proof in due process cases and spike the workload of special educators. This legislation could take away the precious time that special educators have to work with students and would not improve many issues that proponents of the bill raised during the bill hearing. Now that the legislation is in the Senate, MSEA continues to advocate for better policies that will give students receiving special education services the support they deserve and special educators the time and resources they need. Contact legislators via this link to urge them to vote against HB294 and any local bills that will have the same effect.
The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee nominated Sarah Siddiqui Wolek to serve in the House of Delegates, representing Bethesda-based District 16. Wolek was nominated to replace Sen. Ariana Kelly (D), who was elevated to the state Senate earlier this month following a vacancy there. Kelly had served in the House since 2011. The recommendation now goes to Gov. Moore.
Former Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who represented Prince George’s County as delegate and senator for 25 years, received the Senate’s First Citizen Award Thursday. The award recognizes people with an outstanding record of public service, civic engagement, and governance. Pinsky, a stalwart public education champion and former teacher in Prince George’s public schools from 1976 to 1995, was recognized for his leadership in education matters, school funding, educator pay, campaign finance, and the environment. Pinsky retired from the Senate when Gov. Moore tapped him to be the director of the Maryland Energy Administration to maximize energy efficiency, reduce reliance on foreign fuel, and improve the environment.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced The Pay Teachers Act of 2023 that has NEA support. The bill would provide states with federal funds to establish minimum teacher salaries of at least $60,000 a year. The legislation also would triple funding for the Title 1-A program that provides funding to schools with a high percentage of students that come from low-income backgrounds.
The U.S. House may vote this week on H.R. 5, an extreme bill that would make it easier to ban books and censor honest, accurate history. The bill would stoke racial and social animosity and further a vocal minority’s efforts to increase censorship and ban even more books. Contact your representatives today and urge them to vote against this divisive bill here.