And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
During a hearing on Senate Bill 735 on Wednesday in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, education support professionals (ESPs) testified to their having to work multiple jobs to support themselves even as they work full-time helping students. Their critical work for students includes bus driving, food service, building maintenance, technology support, classroom support, and front office management, among other roles.
“We want to take care of these essential employees,” MSEA President Bost testified. She was part of the panel that supported the legislation to establish a workgroup to explore the best ways to improve ESP wages. Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery) introduced SB735, and Del. Melissa Wells (D-Baltimore City) crossfiled House Bill 1234 to establish the workgroup, which would make recommendations to the General Assembly for future legislation. MSEA would have a seat on the workgroup.
Carroll Association of School Employees President Cindy Porter, an ESP in her 24th year, has sometimes worked three jobs to support herself and currently makes less than $35,000. Harford special educator and ESP Cindy Poper and others who testified said this experience of low wages is nearly universal. “Some [ESPs] have to rely on the gratitude of others just to survive, and some incur stigma from participating in public assistance programs even when working a full-time job,” Poper told the committee.
On Tuesday, MSEA President Cheryl Bost, MSEA chief lobbyist Samantha Zwerling, and aspiring educator Jailyn Bridgeforth again joined Gov. Wes Moore’s sponsor panel testifying in support of Moore’s Educator Shortage Act (House Bill 1219/Senate Bill 893). During the hearing in the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee, the panel made persuasive arguments that this legislation will address the critical need to attract and retain qualified educators.
Faced with importing more than 50% of educators from other states, dwindling enrollment in state education programs, and departures by educators from the field after only a few years, Maryland had 2,500 vacancies at the start of the school year, Bost told the committee. “We’re not supplying enough folks to fill the classrooms,” she said.
Bridgeforth described how important the paid internship proposed in the legislation would be to aspiring educators who cannot afford to continue their pursuit of a career in education. A senior elementary education major at Morgan State who would be the first in her family to graduate from college, Bridgeforth described her path to becoming an educator, from childhood poverty to challenges finding money for college.
“The stipend would mean…I would be able to afford groceries to pack a lunch with me so I wouldn’t have to wait until 7 p.m. when my university dining hall opens to have my first meal of the day,” Bridgeforth told the senators. The legislation would mean “that people like me that have a desire to educate the children of Maryland can achieve that dream, that we can help people become more than their circumstances.”
The bill was heavily amended and moved out of the Ways and Means Committee late Thursday to go to the Appropriations Committee for a vote before going to the House floor for a vote. To show your support for the Educator Shortage Act, email your legislators here.
MSEA General Counsel Kristy Anderson testified Tuesday in the House Appropriations Committee in favor of House Bill 984, one of MSEA’s legislative priorities, to improve the collective bargaining law for public employees. Anderson stressed the need for a streamlined single labor board that is well-resourced and versed in labor relations to resolve disputes in a timely manner. Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel) is sponsoring SB367, and HB984 is sponsored by Majority Whip Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s), who serves as the chair of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.
The bill would merge the three state public labor relations laws into a single, standardized, and modernized framework for public employees. Currently, these three boards are ineffective, understaffed, and unduly divided. As a result, neither labor nor management is assured fair and timely resolution of disputes over unit composition/clarifications, unfair labor practices, negotiability disputes, or bargaining impasse.
This week Senator Ben Cardin and U.S. Congressman David Trone (D-6th) announced the introduction of legislation that would provide an additional $1.4 billion in federal grant funding that could support the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The legislation proposes grants for states and local communities that commit to transformative education policy changes and allocated significant additional resources to address education inequities, like those in Maryland’s Blueprint.
Working with Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-5th), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd), John Sarbanes (D-3rd), Kweisi Mfume (D-7th), Jamie Raskin (D-8th), and Glenn Ivey (D-4th) they purposefully aligned the legislation with the five main policy recommendations of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The legislation—Transformational Reforms and Updates to Ensure Educational Quality and Urgent Investments in Today’s Youth Act (TRUE EQUITY Act)—aims to strengthen and leverage federal-state-local partnerships to ensure educational equity and eliminate academic achievement gaps in exchange for stringent accountability measures.
In Maryland, these new federal grants would cover a significant portion of the implementation costs for the Blueprint.
President Biden’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget includes $90 billion for the U.S. Department of Education—a 13.6% or $10.8 billion increase over current budget allocations. The plan’s two largest spending categories for education are for high-poverty schools, with $20.5 billion for Title I, and for pre-k-12 special education services, at $16.8 billion. The budget also would provide $368 million to expand community schools, $2.7 billion over FY23 to fund IDEA, and more than $500 million for student mental health support.
A recent poll from Navigator Research released yesterday finds that the fringe platform that some extremist school board candidates and politicians ran on in the past election remains broadly unpopular across the country. The poll found that 68% of Americans oppose banning courses like AP African American History, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed; only 21% support such an idea. Similarly, 57% oppose “banning books that some parents find to have questionable content” whereas only 32% support this proposal.