And other legislative updates in this month’s Up the Street
As we transition to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, veto overrides to enact the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and other important legislation that support education and equity will be our top legislative priorities when the General Assembly convenes January 13. Overriding the governor’s vetoes aren’t just important for our schools; doing so will also help address the historic racial, social, and economic inequities the pandemic has made larger.
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future that the governor vetoed contains programs that unfold and expand, over a decade, to address longstanding inequities that disproportionately affect students living in areas of concentrated poverty. It also addresses racial and social justice issues in society at large that have become the universal priority they should always have been. The pandemic has laid bare the desperate need to create strong schools in every neighborhood by providing additional support to struggling learners, hiring more educators and increasing their pay, expanding access to career and technical education, and delivering a more prosperous future for Maryland.
Please review and share MSEA’s legislative priorities for 2021 with elected officials, allies, members, and friends.
Overriding the governor’s veto of the Blueprint will revive the Built to Learn Act, a $2.2 billion investment in school construction for badly needed new and replacement schools and facilities. Facilities continue to be antiquated, inadequately ventilated, and without safe potable water. Overriding the Blueprint veto means repairs can begin on crumbling and unhealthy schools and desperately needed local jobs and economic opportunities can be generated through new capital projects.
Essential to the Blueprint’s success are the progressive revenue streams to fund its programs, several of which were also vetoed, including HB732, the Tobacco, Sales and Use Tax and Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax, and HB932, the 21st Century Economy Fairness Act. Together, these progressive tax bills were estimated to generate as much as a quarter billion dollars in their first year. MSEA also strongly advocates for the settlement with the state’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as was achieved last session in HB1260 but was vetoed. This issue must be resolved so we can finally realize the fairness, equitable funding, and justice, historically denied to these institutions.
We know that student enrollment has experienced a one-time drop this year because of the pandemic and will bounce back next year. However, several school systems are already raising the alarm about how this temporary drop could lead to catastrophic cuts to annual school funding that will only make the recovery for our schools and students harder. We will advocate for the budget to at least hold school systems harmless in FY22.
While the fate of education funding is pending, the pandemic’s impact on the state’s finances is a little clearer, in reports out of the December 11 Bureau of Revenue Estimates (BRE) meeting and the December 15 Spending Affordability Committee (SAC) meeting, both of which will inform Governor Hogan’s budget and legislative action. General fund revenues for fiscal year 2021 and 2022 have improved considerably since the spring predictions of the pandemic’s economic impact, but the latest FY21 revenue estimate does show a $608 million drop in revenue from the pre-pandemic estimate of $19.4 billion. FY22 is estimated to have a $500 million shortfall compared to the forecast in the FY21 budget. The good news from the BRE was that revenue dedicated to the Blueprint is up more than expected, and the SAC reported that funding is already in hand to implement the first several years of the Blueprint. However, even with a Blueprint veto override this year, legislators will have to pass companion legislation to enact the Blueprint on a new timeline, and take in to account the new economic outlook.
It is clear that the Blueprint’s focus on equity makes it more important than ever because of the pandemic’s economic impact. The BRE reported that the state benefited from income tax revenue from higher wage earners who didn’t lose jobs, or the ability to shop online, and continued to reap high capital gains on investments. The heaviest income losses have affected hundreds of thousands of workers who are not earning a living wage, like our 24,000 education support professionals. They are the essential Marylanders who don’t have the luxury to work safely from home, and to collect regular paychecks, and they are less apt to have high quality medical insurance.
Before Thanksgiving, MSEA President Cheryl asked State Superintendent Karen Salmon to declare that schools should operate in virtual learning mode until at least the end of the semester, given that coronavirus case numbers and positivity rates that had climbed well above the safe levels. Salmon didn’t respond until December 7, minutes before the State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting. Bost told the SBOE that educators are eager to return safely and sustainably to in-person learning, but community spread of the coronavirus and lack of building preparations in the fall made a safe, sustainable return impossible. Bost said the state should provide certainty to families and educators who have to plan schedules, and to allow educators to focus on a single mode of learning, rather than react to on-again, off-again announcements about the status of schools that has plagued the semester. Read Bost’s entire letter here. Salmon has stuck to her position that local school systems can continue make decisions day by day.
In these trying times, students have noticed and are benefiting from teachers’ extraordinary effort, according to an NEA poll of students in November. Despite the hardships 76% of students polled feel that they are getting a good education, and 88% trust their teachers to teach in ways that will help them grow as students. Baltimore County teacher Pam Gaddy joined NEA President Becky Pringle and PTA President Leslie Boggs in a press conference sharing these poll results. Meanwhile, a national poll by Horace Mann Educators Corp. found that 77% of teachers are working harder and sometimes feeling overwhelmed, and 27% of are considering retiring or leaving the job because of the current conditions. We will not stop fighting to make sure that systems recognize and address the stress and workload exhausting our educators and ESPs.
At this point in the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine in Maryland, education employees are currently listed in Phase 2 for vaccine availability, according to the Maryland COVID-19 Vaccination Plan. Similar to the federal recommendations, health care workers and those living in long-term care are a top priority in Phase 1 in Maryland’s plan, and Hogan said the first shipment of 155,000 doses won’t even cover everyone in those two categories, so no time estimate is possible yet. We’ve compiled more about what we do know here.
At the SBOE’s December 7 meeting, the board voted to waive the requirement for seniors to pass a test in government to graduate. Passing the government course will meet the requirement, and those who don’t pass the course may complete a bridge project to meet the requirement. MSEA Vice President Doug Prouty reiterated MSEA’s opposition in general—even without a pandemic—to high-stakes standardized tests that make or break students for graduation. In January the SBOE is scheduled to vote on other graduation requirements found in recommendations from the Maryland High School Task Force.
On the House Floor on December 11, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) eulogized his father, former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who died on December 6. Known for promoting justice and being “for the little guy,” he was the second longest serving senator in Maryland history and author of major corporate reform legislation known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.