Freedom to Read, Grow Your Own Educators Bills Heard in House

And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street

The Freedom to Read Act, legislation sponsored by Del. Dana Jones (D-Anne Arundel) to protect library resources and staff, had its first hearing in the House. (Photo: Del. Dana Jones’s Office)


Freedom to Read Act, in Speaker’s Decency Agenda, Promotes Equity, Antidiscrimination

The Freedom to Read Act was heard for the first time on Wednesday in the House Ways and Means Committee as its sponsors seek to set standards to prevent the kinds of politically motivated book bans that are emerging around the state. MSEA President Cheryl Bost advocated for House Bill 785, sponsored by Del. Dana Jones (D-Anne Arundel).The Freedom to Read Act is part of House Speaker Adrienne Jones’s (D-Baltimore County) Decency Agenda. “This crucial and timely legislation will safeguard our libraries from becoming the next frontier of censorship, protecting literature and the freedom for readers to choose for themselves,” Del. Dana Jones told the committee. HB785 is crossfiled as Senate Bill 738, sponsored by Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery). The legislation establishes fair, reasonable, and inclusive standards for library collections and employee treatment (see previous Up the Street coverage). SB738 was heard in the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee on Friday.

Grow Your Own Bill Would Invest in Support Professionals Becoming Teachers

MSEA’s priority legislation, a bill to establish a grow your own educator program to support education support professionals (ESPs) who want to become certified teachers, was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. Supporters for House Bill 1157 included Sheila Jones-Wagner, a first-year 6th grade geography teacher in Howard County, MSEA President Cheryl Bost, the Maryland State Board of Education, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, and others. They support grow your own as a proven means to increase the teacher workforce, diversity, and teacher retention. Sponsored by Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery), HB1157 is crossfiled as Senate Bill 937, sponsored by Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s). This legislation would revive part of Gov. Moore’s 2023 Maryland Educator Shortage Reduction Act that was amended before passage last year. Jones-Wagner said it was a grow your own program that enabled her to reach her dream to become a teacher, after being a paraeducator since 2003. She commended grow your own for tapping into a valuable pool of resources. “Who better to be teaching in our schools than the staff who are already placed there, who demonstrate love for our students,” she said. MSEA President Bost emphasized that this legislation would sustainably fund a program that has been working in Maryland, using pandemic-era federal funding that is expiring. SB937 will be heard on March 6 in the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee.

Bills to Raise State Revenue

This week the legislature heard a proposal, Fair Share for Maryland Act of 2024 (HB1007) (SB766), in the House and the Senate to raise resources that Maryland communities need while also ensuring that wealthy corporations and individuals are contributing their fair share to the public services from which we all benefit. This bill would close corporate tax loopholes and help ensure millionaires pay their fair share by adding upper income tax brackets and a surtax on capital gains income. This bill would help to shore up funding for important, foundational investments in public schools and other public services for years to come.

School Employees’ Jobs Protected from Private Contractors in Proposed Bill

On Wednesday, MSEA’s bill to prohibit public schools from hiring subcontractors for certified and noncertified staff positions without strong oversight and employee protections will have its first hearing, in the House Ways and Means Committee. House Bill 1175, sponsored by Del. Jessica Feldmark (D-Howard), is the crossfile of Senate Bill 1043, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Gile (D-Anne Arundel). The legislation is needed to keep school jobs filled by educators in the schools, not outside contractors (see previous Up the Street coverage). The Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee will hear SB1043 on March 6.

Blueprint’s Extra Pay for Similarly Qualified Educators to Be Heard in Senate Committee

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee will hear Senate Bill 545 to expand the career supports in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future that are designed to help with the recruitment and retention of highly qualified educators. SB545 is sponsored by Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), crossfiled as House Bill 789, sponsored by Del. Jessica Feldmark (D-Howard). The legislation expands the job positions that qualify for salary increases associated with earning a National Board certification and other advanced credentials (see previous Up the Street coverage). HB789 was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on February 14.

Aspiring Educator Stipends Bill Passes House; Emphasizes Hiring, Retention Benefits

This week the House unanimously passed House Bill 75 with amendments, and it has had its first reading in the Senate. HB75, sponsored by Del. Eric Ebersole (D-Baltimore County), is MSEA’s bill that builds on the governor’s 2023 Maryland Educator Shortage Reduction Act. If passed, aspiring educators who begin their studies at any state community college would be eligible for stipends that were established by last year’s bill for aspiring educators at some community colleges and four-year colleges. Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery) sponsors the crossfiled Senate Bill 377, which was heard on February 14 in the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee.


Biden-Harris Administration Has Multipronged Approach to Student Debt Relief

The Biden-Harris Administration continues to chip away at student debt, with relief now reaching 3.9 million borrowers. Despite a 2023 Supreme Court ruling setback that prevented the president’s original massive debt relief plan, relief has come through several initiatives. This week $1.2 billion in loans were forgiven for approximately 153,000 borrowers who are eligible for the shortened time to forgiveness benefit under Biden’s Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan. In another approach, the administration has proposed a rule to relieve borrowers who are facing imminent hardship. This plan could be adopted in the department’s rulemaking process, and it would give the secretary of education the authority to consider a borrower’s financial burdens, such as childcare expenses, when granting debt relief.


Olszewski Gains Ruppersberger, Hoyer Endorsements for Congressional Bid

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. (D) has received endorsements from U.S. Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) and Steny Hoyer (D-5th) in the race to fill the seat from which Ruppersberger is retiring this year. A complete list of Olszewski’s endorsements is on his campaign website. Others in the race include five Democrats and three Republicans.

Senate Race Predicted to Inspire New Level of Anti-Hogan Voting

Polling continues to favor U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) in the Democratic primary race to fill the seat from which Sen. Ben Cardin (D) is retiring. His lead over his closest challenger, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, has widened to 52% to 31% among Democratic primary voters. That is up since January, when a poll had Trone with 46% to 34% for Alsobrooks. Political experts also anticipate that Democratic voters will be especially motivated to vote against Republican former Gov. Larry Hogan in the general election, to reduce the potential for a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. Voters who might previously have split their ticket to vote for Hogan as governor and for Democrats elsewhere on the ballot will have to factor in Hogan’s positions on consequential national issues that he had the luxury to skirt as governor. As governor, he could demur, or claim to hold only personal views about federal issues, as he did about reproductive health rights and his opposition to abortion. The consequences of this election are incredibly high, with this seat potentially determining control over a closely divided Senate and impacting a wide range of issues from reproductive health, to judicial appointments, to education, healthcare, and many other topics.