And other legislative updates in this month’s Up the Street
At the end of June, Gov. Hogan and his Department of Budget and Management proposed $1.45 billion in state budget cuts, including $345 million from school- and educator-related funding and programs. The first round of the proposed cuts was scheduled to be acted on by the three-member Board of Public Works (BPW) at their July 1 meeting, including $111 million that affected public education. Maryland’s BPW is unique among the 50 states, with administrative powers over major state contracts and expenditures including budget items approved by the General Assembly and management of the state budget while the General Assembly is not in session. The three members of the BPW are the governor, state comptroller, and state treasurer.
Within days of the proposed cuts, MSEA rallied members and allies to lobby Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp to vote against the education cuts. The lobbying efforts were a success and both Franchot and Kopp signaled the day before the meeting that they would oppose 95% of the education-related cuts. Their coordinated action forced Gov. Hogan to remove cuts to state grants that go to poorer counties and can be used to help fund schools, cuts to the Healthy School Facilities Fund, which pays for projects like air conditioning and mold remediation in public schools, and cuts to contributions to pensions from the BPW agenda.
We appreciate the leadership that was demonstrated by Comptroller Franchot and the support from Treasurer Kopp. While many of our priorities were held harmless at the start of the month, the BPW did vote to cut $413 million from other budgeted items.
The victory we enjoyed July 1 doesn’t mean we can let our guard down. Hogan has indicated that education cuts are still on the table, and that his fellow BPW members should expect to see some or all of the cuts they rejected at the start of the month to be on the agenda again at a future BPW meeting. The BPW typically meets twice a month. While the pandemic’s effect on state revenues may require future budget adjustments, cutting education funding should not be the solution. Education — which has been underfunded by billions for decades — impacts the state well beyond a budget year, with long-term social and economic consequences. One of Hogan’s proposed cuts was to the Healthy School Facilities Fund, which improves public health conditions in school buildings — hardly a frivolous expenditure in a pandemic.
Hogan has already prevented progress toward economic recovery that could have advanced the programs contained in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which the General Assembly passed with bipartisan support before Hogan vetoed it. The Blueprint would more equitably and fully fund education; give all students an equal chance, from pre-kindergarten through career and technical education; hire and better pay a diverse teacher workforce; and support struggling learners to help them reach their full promise. The Blueprint awaits a General Assembly override of Hogan’s veto. More immediate negative consequences are under way too. Hogan’s veto of the Blueprint took with it the Built to Learn Act, which would put $2.2 billion into school construction (and jobs) for much-needed new and replacement facilities.
Our kids can’t wait any longer for the funding and support they deserve, and the state’s economic future depends on it now. The pandemic has deepened the factors that make the Blueprint necessary, including inequity and systemic racism. The latter has emerged as an urgent issue that must be addressed concurrently with the pandemic, which disproportionately affects the people who suffer most from systemic racism — not a coincidence. Thank legislators for their past support of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and urge them to override the veto as soon as possible.
Educators want to be back in school with our students — but we must do so safely. We need to be guided by science and the expertise of educators while also guaranteeing the funding and support schools need to be safe and successful. Educators miss students and know that safe in-person learning is better for academic and social-emotional support than crisis distance learning. But science and safety must determine our next steps, not politics and recklessness. MSEA President Cheryl Bost, during two separate legislative hearings and countless media interviews, has made clear that reopening conversations must prioritize safety. She has demanded that schools have adequate PPE, small class sizes to allow for social distancing, and other medically recommended steps to protect the health of educators, students, and families. She has also fought to ensure that every local school system’s reopening plan must include the voice of local educators. The educators who know our students and our schools best must be at the table and drive decisions about how to make sure that the next school year is a safe and successful one, no matter its format. We can’t ignore the voices and concerns of educators while asking them to risk their health. And we shouldn’t be fighting against deep cuts to school funding, like what Gov. Hogan has proposed, when instead our schools need new investments in order to provide 1:1 technology supports for students and equip our schools with the safety protocols necessary to keep buildings and classrooms safe places to learn and work.
At the June State Board of Education meeting, despite some pushback from a few state school board members, we succeeded in getting a commitment to block the use of standardized tests as diagnostic tools when the new school year begins. State School Board Member Rachel McCusker, the first active public school teacher to sit on the board, amplified State Superintendent Karen Salmon’s assurance that teachers routinely assess students at the start of the school year for competency, and this year is no time to replace that with stressful testing.
At MSEA, we continue to roll out communications initiatives to answer member questions as the pandemic complicates all aspects of life. The next edition of “Learn More at 4,” our live Q&A on Facebook with MSEA President Cheryl Bost and General Counsel Kristy Anderson will be next Wednesday, July 15. MSEA will continue to respond to emailed questions and publish answers and updates on our website at www.marylandeducators.org/coronavirus.
Although vote-by-mail has been successfully used in primaries statewide during the pandemic, Gov. Hogan wants polls to be open in November for the general election. That complicates and raises the cost of the election and likely will make it harder for Marylanders to vote than if he approved the plan recommended by non-partisan voting rights groups to send every eligible voter a ballot in the mail. His disingenuous plan to mail applications for absentee ballots to all voters, rather than make the election universally vote-by-mail, potentially doubles the state’s mailing costs while incurring poll operating expenses and putting poll workers and voters in harm’s way during the ongoing state of emergency.
MSEA will run an aggressive campaign to promote voting and encourage members and voters alike to use www.MDAppleBallot.com to identify educator-recommended candidates in their district. We will also encourage vote by mail as the safest and healthiest way to send a strong message about the direction of our country and our state.