And other legislative updates in this month’s Up the Street
At its first meeting on July 8, the Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB) Nominating Committee began its work to select the slate of candidates to fill the AIB, which will have long-term oversight of the statewide implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The committee will conduct most of its deliberations in closed session. Applications opened for prospective AIB members last month, and the committee expects to have a slate of candidates to the governor by mid-September. Committee member and MSEA President Cheryl Bost fought to assure that the AIB will include education experts, as the Blueprint intended. From the slate of nine candidates presented to the governor he will appoint seven to the AIB, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The AIB is an independent unit of state government, with authority superseding the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and the State Board of Education (SBOE), if they come into conflict.
At its July 27 meeting, the SBOE took the necessary step to secure the release of the remaining federal coronavirus relief funds. The Board approved MSDE’s broad spending plan for the three tranches of funds from the Coronavirus Relief and Emergency Spending (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, and the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The state plan goes to the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) for final approval to secure the release of the remaining funding. Two-thirds of the $1.95 billion in ARP education funding for Maryland has been distributed to school districts, and USDE is holding the remaining third pending approval of the state plan.
MSDE also reported on learning loss during the pandemic, which indicated the predictable disproportionate distribution of grade performance between white students and students of color, while the report said nothing of the pre-pandemic inequities and the pandemic itself that has disproportionately affected Black, Brown, and impoverished students. MSEA has pressured the state to make sure ARP funds are spent as outlined in the Blueprint not only on academic opportunities—such as tutoring and summer programs and closing the digital divide—but increased social-emotional personnel and supports. Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury echoed MSEA’s priorities during the meeting, including ventilation upgrades, which ARP funds can be used to address.
The delta variant of the coronavirus that is sweeping the country has caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status, when the school year starts. Similarly, the Biden Administration urges schools to open for in-person education in the fall with robust safety precautions, like masking, in place. The National Education Association (NEA) and MSEA continue to advocate for following the CDC’s expert advice, and masking is part of a thorough layered approach that also should include social distancing, frequent testing, increased access to vaccines, and upgrades to ventilation systems. Several Maryland school districts have already adjusted their fall plans following the release of the CDC recommendation to mandate masking.
MSDE, the state Health Department, CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics also advocate for frequent school-based screening tests to identify cases quickly. MSDE has advised schools to apply for funding from the CDC, which has $182 million to pay for tests. Less than half of schoolchildren likely will have been vaccinated by early fall, and a vaccine for children under age 12 is not expected to be available until the fall or winter.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited a Baltimore school on August 4 and advised following CDC guidance, including universal masking, to support safe in-person instruction. He introduced the USDE’s Return to School Roadmap, which encourages school districts to focus on the health and safety of students and educators and invest in social and emotional support for students and ways to support academic achievement.
House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) has pushed hard for more than $300 million in new funding for the nation’s community schools in a Labor, Health and Human Services Education bill now before Congress. The bill would increase funding from $30 million to $443 million. MSEA made community schools a cornerstone of the Blueprint to reinforce the wraparound services needed to address longstanding education and social inequities that have been experienced by students and families, and to help reverse the recent effects of the pandemic. Levels of poverty in 289 schools qualify them to be community schools this year, and more will be added each year until more than 550 are estimated to become community schools in the next six years.
The Workgroup on the Assessment and Funding of School Facilities that was directed by legislation in 2021 to evaluate components of school construction projects and conditions has begun to develop an index to categorize school repair priorities. The workgroup will report on various factors, including the local-state cost share formula.
Chuen-Chin Bianca Chang and student representative Kevin Bokoum, a senior at North Hagerstown High School, joined the SBOE on July 27. Chang, who has a four-year term, has been involved in school administration in Howard County and taught at the Chinese Language School of Columbia.
Counting on Census data to arrive this month, state legislative leaders are tentatively planning to meet in December to consider redistricting. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) appointed a bipartisan redistricting commission to come up with a map that better reflects natural geographic and community boundaries. Starting this month the commission is conducting a series of virtual and in-person meetings to get public feedback.
The current Republican gubernatorial field may have a major addition by way of former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who has formed an exploratory committee. Steele, a past Republican National Committee chairman and outspoken critic of former President Trump, has broad state name recognition.
President Biden has nominated Delegate Erek Barron (D-Prince George’s) for U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland. Barron, chair of the Prince George’s House delegation and a partner at the law firm of Whiteford Taylor & Preston LLP, is a former prosecutor who has represented the 24th district since 2015. He would be the first Black U.S attorney for Maryland. The Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee has to select a replacement for Gov. Hogan’s approval.
In July Delegate Keith Haynes (D-Baltimore City) gave notice of his July 15 retirement after more than 18 years in office. On Thursday the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee scheduled public interviews of nine candidates for his replacement.
After serving nearly four decades in the General Assembly Sen. George Edwards (R-Allegany) will not seek re-election in 2022. He was elected to the House in 1982 and has held the Senate seat since 2006. He is chair of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, an unusual position of power for a minority party member to hold. He is also chair of the Senate Republican Caucus.