And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
In hearings on Thursday in the House and Friday in the Senate on the proposed $63.1 billion budget, Senate Bill 360/House Bill 350, MSEA took opportunities to justify restoring full funding for community colleges. They are essential components to meeting college and career readiness standards in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, to which the governor is strongly committed, and his proposed budget fundamentally supports. At these colleges, dually enrolled high school students can accelerate to post-secondary school paths, and students can acquire credentials to participate in job sectors that have shortages. Smaller communities will be hit hardest by cuts. According to the Department of Budget and Management, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act would cut funding to community colleges by as much as 21% per college. The cuts disproportionately harm smaller community colleges, which are less able to absorb the losses. These cuts could result in tuition increases or staff layoffs. The proposed budget reduction to community college funding and change to the funding formula must be reversed.
To protect libraries and librarians from political extremists trying to rampantly ban books, the Freedom to Read Act is being introduced as House Bill 785, sponsored by Del. Dana Jones (D-Anne Arundel), and the crossfiled Senate Bill 738, sponsored by Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery). The legislation, one of MSEA’s priorities, would establish standards for libraries, like those in other states, to assure fair criteria are applied and enforced in maintaining library collections. The law would prohibit county boards of education and library governing bodies from retaliating against employees who act consistent with the standards.
Bills that would build on the Blueprint’s educator supports are multiplying. House Bill 945, sponsored by Del. Eric Ebersole (D-Baltimore County), crossfiled as Senate Bill 771, sponsored by Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City and Baltimore County), were introduced this week. MSEA worked with sponsors to craft this priority legislation to expand the pathways open to aspiring educators. Research suggests that despite widespread use of teacher certification exams, like the Praxis, that have been the gatekeeper to the profession, they do not predict teacher effectiveness, and racial disparities in certification exam pass rates also suggest there is bias in the tests themselves. The legislation would keep high professional standards while expanding pathways so that candidates may be certified based on evidence of qualification and not unproven tests.
To remove inequities across job categories in the Blueprint career ladder, MSEA’s proposal from last year has been reintroduced this year (Senate Bill 545) by Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) and crossfiled as House Bill 789, sponsored by Del. Jessica Feldmark (D-Howard). The legislation expands the job positions that qualify for the salary increases associated with earning a National Board certification and other high credentials, and working in a low preforming school while holding one of those credentials. HB789 will have a hearing at 1 p.m. on February 14 in the House Ways and Committee, and SB545 will have a hearing at 1 p.m. February 28 in the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee.
Legislation to make students in community college eligible for the student educator stipends—created by the governor last year—has MSEA support. House Bill 75, sponsored by Del. Eric Ebersole (D-Baltimore County) and crossfiled Senate Bill 377, sponsored by Nancy King (D-Montgomery), would build on the Maryland Educator Shortage Reduction Act of 2023 by offering the stipends to aspiring educators who begin their studies at community college. At 1 p.m. on February 14, the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee will have a hearing on SB377.
Community schools would benefit from House Bill 200/Senate Bill 161, sponsored by Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Alonzo Washington (D-Prince George’s), respectively. MSEA supports this legislation to enable school districts to maximize efficiency while administering community school funding.
MSEA testified along with many community school coordinators in favor of Senate Bill 370, sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County), and crossfiled as HB428, sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery). Educators see and understand the impact of unstable housing on their students. This legislation would help support community school students’ families with rental assistance so that they might have a more stable living situation.
The Biden-Harris Administration debt relief plan moves up sooner than expected for some student loan borrowers. This month, those who borrowed $12,000 or less will be relieved of payments as part of the administration’s income-based SAVE debt relief plan after 10 years of payments, instead of 20 years. The relief plan was to go into effect July 1, but has been moved up to February. Borrowers must be enrolled in the SAVE plan to qualify for this early relief, and enrollment is open at studentaid.gov.
In the race for the U.S. Senate seat from which Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) is retiring this year, U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) has a 13-point lead over his closest competitor, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D), according to a recent poll. Trone enjoys sizable leads in the Baltimore media market and Montgomery County, among other areas of the state where he is ahead. Trone’s lead grew from a seven-point margin from a poll taken in November.
Year-end campaign finance reports for congressional candidates were due Wednesday. In the open 3rd District seat from which Rep. John Sarbanes (D) is retiring, Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) reported $373,000 cash on hand and Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Anne Arundel and Howard), $333,000. In third, fourth, and fifth place in cash on hand were three other state legislators in the race: Del. Mike Rogers (D-Anne Arundel), $82,828.74; Del. Terri L. Hill (D-Howard), $72,714.60; Del. Mark S. Chang (D-Anne Arundel), $59,692.19.
In the 6th District race, campaign finance reports of cash on hand showed Democrats April McLain Delaney ($482,000), Geoffrey Grammer ($372,000), Joe Vogel ($195,000), and Tekesha Martinez ($124,000) ahead of six other Democrats and seven Republicans. Political newcomer Republican Tom Royals, a former Naval aviator, has $95,000 cash on hand, which is at least 30% more cash on hand than any of the remaining 12 candidates; Royals raised $293,000 and spent $198,000. In sixth, seventh and eighth place, respectively, are Republicans: retired police officer Chris Hyser ($65,000), unsuccessful 2022 gubernatorial candidate and former state Del. Dan Cox ($59,000), and former Del. Neil Parrott ($42,000).
The retirement announcement last Friday by U.S. Rep Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) officially opened the door to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. and Del. Harry Bhandari (D-Baltimore County), who have announced their candidacies, and other potential candidates. The deadline to file is February 9. Up the Street will report the campaign finances of Olszewski and Bhandari when the Federal Elections Commission publishes them.