Educators’ Agenda: Protect Our Schools

MSEA’s 2017 legislative priorities

Photo: Martin Falbisoner (Attribution: ShareAlike 3.0 Unported)

There is a growing threat to our public schools from President-Elect Trump in the White House and Governor Hogan here in Maryland. Both share an education agenda that weakens public schools by shifting taxpayer dollars to private and for-profit charter schools. This agenda would harm — and in some cases, dismantle — our neighborhood public schools to help private interests.

With the Maryland General Assembly set to begin its 90-day legislative session this week, this is a defining moment for the future of public education in our state. We need Maryland’s legislators to stand with educators in protecting our public schools.

Here’s how:

1. Protecting vital investments for our schools, students, and educators

In Gov. Hogan’s first two years in office, he has singlehandedly withheld $93 million from public schools, resulting in larger class sizes and slashed programs. This year, as the Kirwan Commission on Education Finance develops its final recommendations, we will seek full funding under existing state aid for education, including the full inflation factor. MSEA also supports the state keeping its promise to educators by making the full actuarial required pension contribution and the $75 million supplemental payment. MSEA calls on legislators to provide ongoing relief to school boards to address a gap in what is due to cover the normal cost pension payment over the next few years.

In the capital budget, MSEA supports expanded school construction funding — $500 million in FY2018 — to help address the $4.5 billion in backlogged projects. We will advocate for high standards and protections, including prevailing wage and appropriate building and safety standards.

2. Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act and creating opportunities for students to learn

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a once in a decade opportunity to redefine school success so it emphasizes test scores less and focuses on opportunities to learn more. But there’s a real danger that Gov. Hogan and his State Board of Education will use ESSA to emphasize test scores to identify public schools as failing and try to close them in favor of for-profit charters and private school vouchers.

MSEA calls on the General Assembly to prioritize opportunities for students in the development of Maryland’s school accountability model. When schools need extra supports, those improvements should be led by educators, local school boards, and other local stakeholders. We must block efforts to use the federal law to weaken any state laws that would make it easier for for-profit companies and privatization to occur in our schools and districts.

3. Creating a positive and safe school climate

MSEA supports school discipline reforms that prioritize restorative practices, social and emotional learning, and ban suspensions for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. To accomplish these reforms, we need increased funding and commitments to hire new personnel, including school counselors, school psychologists, pupil personnel workers, and behavior interventionists.

4. Focusing the Kirwan Commission on key student needs

National experts have estimated we will need $3 billion more each year to truly meet the needs of all students. The Kirwan Commission — tasked with examining how the state re-invests in a world-class public education system — will recommend a record investment in K-12 education, as the Thornton Commission did more than a decade ago. It is critical that those additional resources go to filling important resource equity gaps in the schools with students who need the most help. MSEA will strive to build support for dedicated funding streams for proven strategies like universal pre-kindergarten, community schools, smaller class sizes, high-quality new educator mentoring, and competitive, professional salaries for both teachers and educational support professionals.