And other legislative updates in this month’s Up the Street
MSEA will be advocating for educators as usual during the 2021 General Assembly session, even though access to lawmakers will shrink because of pandemic-related safety protocols and prohibitions inside the Capitol. House and Senate galleries will be closed to the public; a limited number of reporters will have access to floor debate; lobbyists and visitors alike will need appointments; committees will hear, virtually, from a limited number of witnesses; and there will be no last-minute testimony signups. Packed rallies and mass public participation outside legislative chambers that can’t be socially distanced will be prohibited.
Tighter restrictions for rallies will be in force even as Lawyers Mall outside the State House—the time-honored venue for demonstrations and rallies by MSEA members and other advocates—is scheduled to reopen to the public. It was closed for two years to undergo a $13 million underground infrastructure replacement project. Repair work under Lawyers Mall is not finished, but the area above ground is scheduled to reopen before the end of this month.
Lawmakers’ workplaces will have new protections: plexiglass around desks, upgraded ventilation systems, a sanitization routine, abundant and frequent coronavirus testing and tracing, and reconfigured spaces to separate occupants—many things every school building should have to function safely during the pandemic.
Technical equipment improvements have been made to livestream all committee and floor action from the House and Senate. Next session the public should not face the same sometimes bumpy experience of watching interrupted video and audio transmissions that existed this year.
Despite this session’s different environment, MSEA will continue advocacy work for our members that meets our legislative priorities, including overrides of Gov. Hogan’s vetoes of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and associated revenue bills to pay for it. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future contains programs that unfold and expand over a decade to address longstanding inequities in education that disproportionately affect students in poverty. Now more than ever we need the Blueprint to create strong schools in every neighborhood by providing additional support to struggling learners, hiring more educators and increasing their pay, expanding career and technical education, and delivering a more prosperous future for our state.
Two 2020 revenue bills that Hogan vetoed would supply an estimated quarter billion dollars annually to pay for the Blueprint implementation and other education programs. In support of diversity in education, equity, and social justice MSEA also is fighting for $580 million over 10 years to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities to settle the suit they brought to rectify the longstanding funding inequity and injustice they have experienced. This will either require the override of the governor’s veto of HB 1260 from last year or a new bill that accomplishes the same goals.
The status and future of education funding is uncertain at best. On December 11 the Bureau of Revenue Estimates (BRE) will discuss the revenue outlook, which Hogan will use as he develops his fiscal year 2022 budget. In September the BRE reported an $18.7 billion revenue estimate for this fiscal year, a 0.4% increase over FY20. That is higher than the BRE had first estimated after the pandemic began, but it is $2.1 billion or 10% less than was forecast in Hogan’s 2021 budget. For FY22, the BRE estimated a 5% increase, or $19.7 billion, in revenue.
Already this year MSEA has pushed back against Gov. Hogan’s more than $340 million in cuts to the current year’s education budget and additional cuts he might try to make to next year’s school funding. Successful lobbying efforts by MSEA members and allies preceded a July Board of Public Works consideration of $110 million of Hogan’s cuts to this year’s education programs and defeated those cuts. But he has not backed down from another $233 million in proposed cuts, which include a $201 million cut that would impact every jurisdiction in the state, as well as cuts to the Healthy School Facilities Fund, which pays for projects like air conditioning and mold remediation in public schools, and funds for public school safety.
Educators and education advocates are concerned that unexpected declines in enrollment due to the pandemic will negatively impact the school funding formula, which is based in large part on enrollment counts. We’ll need to fight for any potential funding cuts to be mitigated and, at worst, for districts to be held harmless from temporary enrollment changes that will rebound once the pandemic ends.
Just before Thanksgiving, MSEA President Cheryl Bost sent a letter to State Superintendent Karen Salmon requesting a statewide declaration that schools operate in virtual learning mode until at least the end of the semester. Coronavirus case numbers and positivity rates are climbing well above the safe levels. Although educators are eager to see the day when they can return safely and sustainably to in-person learning, the state should provide certainty to families and educators who have to plan their schedules, and to allow educators to focus on a single, safe, and stable mode of learning, rather than react to on-again, off-again announcements about the status of schools that has plagued the first semester.
As has been true too often since the pandemic began in March, the state has responded with silence when leadership is needed. Rates of case positivity and community spread may make the point moot, but an announcement from the state about the semester could immediately reduce anxiety and stress. “Let’s get through the holidays with clarity and consistency,” Bost wrote to Salmon. Read Bost’s entire letter here.
Reading and math tests that comprise the “Nation’s Report Card” won’t be administered this school year. The U.S. Department of Education announced on November 25 that the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test will not take place this year because of conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic. MSEA will continue to discourage high-stakes standardized tests for state and national report cards, especially considering how extraordinarily different this entire school year will continue to be and the valuable time and money that such tests would eat up.
On alternate Wednesdays “Educate at 8,” our live Q&A on Facebook with MSEA President Cheryl Bost and subject matter experts, informs members about coronavirus-related matters. The next “Educate at 8” will be December 16 and will focus on what can be done to address exacerbated food insecurity issues. MSEA will continue to respond to emailed questions and publish answers and updates on our website at www.marylandeducators.org/coronavirus.
The Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee and the Howard County Republican Central Committee will be deciding whose names to submit for the governor’s appointment to fill seats in District 40 and District 9A, respectively. Baltimore City Council President-elect (and current Delegate) Nick J. Mosby was sworn in December 1. At least six Democrats are known to be interested in the district seat he has held since January 2017. In the 9th District Republican Warren Miller cited professional commitments as his reason to resign effective December 30. Miller has represented Carroll and Howard counties for 17 years and sits on the House Economic Matters Committee.
And other legislative updates in this month’s Up the Street
MSEA has consistently called for the implementation of specific safety measures while state school officials have failed to deliver clear standards and resources to ensure safe in-person instruction. Lack of leadership from Superintendent Karen Salmon and the State Board of Education (SBOE) drew criticism from the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs (EHEA) Committee at an October 21 hearing. Committee members heard and echoed concerns about this failure from local superintendents, health officials, and stakeholders, including MSEA President Cheryl Bost.
Meanwhile, MSEA, the Maryland PTA, and the Baltimore Teachers Union agreed on a health and safety checklist to provide educators, parents, communities, and school officials with a simple way to gauge the readiness of their school buildings to reopen safely and sustainably. Throughout October Salmon and Governor Hogan continued their line of confusing and misleading messages, endorsing hasty reopening that may appeal to political positions but disregard the conditions in underfunded school systems. A new state dashboard that Salmon touted to the SBOE on October 22 does not ensure safe conditions. It measures just six health and safety items and five related to athletics.
MSEA conducted a widely covered virtual press conference on October 27 to lay out expectations to safely reopen schools for in-person instruction and call for more manageable workloads and greater transparency. Results were presented from a poll of Maryland educators that found overwhelming support of 90% or more for a wide range of safety requirements to be in place before reopening. At the conference Bost was joined by teachers Pam Gaddy (Baltimore County) and Melinda Kearns (St. Mary’s) and UMD epidemiologist Dr. Meagan Fitzpatrick. The teachers emphasized that workloads in the virtual or hybrid environments are expanding to unhealthy and unsustainable levels. State Comptroller Peter Franchot and other legislators are in support of MSEA’s position for more transparent data about cases in schools. In the checklist that MSEA designed to open schools safely, transparency is essential and must be in place to do the requisite contact tracing.
At the October 27 SBOE meeting Salmon said neither she nor anyone from MSDE spoke at the October 21 EHEA hearing because they were not invited. She then presented information that attempted to rebut the accusation by local school districts that they have received too few resources from the state to safely reopen. Describing the distribution of CARES Act funds, Salmon disingenuously comingled greater amounts of funding that filled gaps last school year with lesser amounts that are available so far this year. Salmon and Hogan have distributed 3% of the $486 per student that superintendents say they need to perform the building retrofits, upgrades, equipment, and maintenance requirements to stay safe during the pandemic. They are telling MSDE that their budgets may run out by February, which may be right after Hogan makes $200 million in education budget cuts that he has recommended and may pursue in January. MSEA has a summary you can share about the truth about the inadequate amount of funding proffered by Salmon and Hogan.
Fresh from her role as intergovernmental affairs officer for Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Pokuaa “PK” Owusu-Acheaw has become MSEA’s managing director for political and legislative affairs. She fills the position left when Sean Johnson became MSEA’s executive director. The daughter of a retired union educator, Pokuaa has also served as Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s Prince George’s County regional director and Sen. Joanne Benson’s chief of staff.
This week the increased positivity rates and cases caused three counties to delay their scheduled returns to in-person teaching. Baltimore County has delayed indefinitely its planned November 16 return, Charles County delayed its return plans, and Anne Arundel pushed their reopening date to the second semester. On Thursday evening, Somerset County announced that all schools would close for two weeks due to rising cases. The escalating numbers make it more important than ever to use the health and safety checklist and fight for safety before reopening to in-person instruction.
MSDE will not issue new school report cards per the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for the 2019-20 school year due to USDE testing waivers and incomplete data. Report car ratings from the prior year will remain. Schools currently rated TSI and CSI will retain that identification and keep receiving funds for this school year. MSDE has requested a waiver from COMAR graduation requirements to pass the Algebra 1 and English 10 assessment tests. This year’s junior class, like last year’s seniors, must take and pass the courses. Juniors must sit for the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) Algebra and English tests, but passing the tests is not a graduation requirement.
MSDE waived the requirement for students to be vaccinated in order to be counted in the September 30 student enrollment count. This was a positive action and increased the estimated enrollment count by roughly 20,000 students. That still reflects more than a 1.5% decrease in projected enrollment from the prior year and likely a 3%-4% miss from what actual enrollment will be in the 2021-2022 school year if there is a normal start to that year. This is a major area of concern in the crafting of the 2022 state budget, considering the funding formula is based on per pupil enrollment counts. MSEA will prioritize addressing this funding gap in our budget advocacy during the upcoming legislative session and in our work before session with the administration and the Department of Budget and Management.
As we await certification of the will of the people in the presidential race, educators in Maryland are celebrating that 85% of measures and candidates recommended by MSEA and local associations won. Two critical state budgetary measures passed: Question 1, which creates a more balanced and inclusive approach to the state budget and better allows legislators to protect funding for priorities like public schools, and Question 2, which authorizes sports gambling that may raise millions of dollars annually for education funding. During the next legislative session decisions must be made about how and where the gambling can occur and how the revenue will flow to supporting schools. We expect the measure to increase school funding by millions per year—in addition to, not instead of, other revenue sources. All the federal candidates where MSEA had a recommendation won convincingly.
A number of our local affiliates won significant ballot questions, board of education seats, and county council seats: 6 of 6 ballot questions in Cecil, Howard, and Montgomery counties; 1 of 2 county council seats (in Cecil and Wicomico); 23 of 31 local board of education seats (in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Washington, and Worcester). Educator voices will be strengthened through the election of educators to the Anne Arundel, Caroline, and Dorchester boards of education. Caroline County elected a retired educator in their first board of education elections, and Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Prince George’s, and Worcester educators successfully swept in at least two board of education candidates each without losing any races. Educators will look to build on this success during the 2022 campaign, which will feature an open governor’s race and every seat in the legislature.
Content goes here!