And other legislative updates in MSEA’s Up the Street
Building on the success of last year’s March to Protect Our Schools, MSEA is planning another march in Annapolis called The March to Fix the Fund — which will focus on asking members of the General Assembly to put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot to ensure casino gaming revenue goes towards increasing education funding.
Since 2012, $1.7 billion has gone into the Education Trust Fund from casino revenues, but it hasn’t increased funding for schools and students as intended. Instead, the same amount of money that was already going to education was redirected to other areas of the budget. Passing the Fix the Fund Act will prevent that from ever happening again and result in an increase of $500 million in school funding. It’s a promising first step to closing the $2.9 billion school funding gap before the legislature passes the new school funding formula in 2019.
The event will take place on March 19 at 6 p.m. on Lawyers Mall in Annapolis. Please RSVP at this link and widely distribute the form to members and community partners. You can also find resources to help organize members to attend the march here. And you can see how much of the $500 million would go to each district (based on the current funding formula) here.
In an effort to distract from his record of underfunding Maryland schools, Gov. Hogan has proposed two bills aimed at attracting negative publicity to school districts across the state. MSEA offered testimony against both bills to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee this week:
1. Protect Our Schools Repeal Bill (HB351/SB301): Despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Education just approved Maryland’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan, Gov. Hogan is refighting a battle he already lost with the General Assembly by attempting to repeal part of last year’s Protect Our Schools Act. The bill would raise the weighting for PARCC scores in a school’s overall rating under the new accountability system, taking weighting away from metrics like student attendance, school climate and safety, and access to well-rounded and advanced courses — effectively sending the state back to the days of No Child Left Behind’s test and punish culture.
MSEA Vice President Cheryl Bost led a panel of education advocates arguing for an unfavorable report on the bill so the state can get to work implementing our newly approved plan.
2. School Accountability Politicization Bill (HB355/SB302): This administration bill would create a new Investigator General position within the Maryland State Department of Education but governed separately by a new commission. The governor claims that the state needs a truly independent investigator to look into allegations of mismanagement and fraud in school districts. One problem: the bill sets up an investigator who would be anything but independent. According to the legislative language, the governor’s political appointees would hire and oversee the new position.
MSEA submitted written testimony opposing the politicization of school accountability for the personal benefit of the governor. The letter to the committee read in part: “Senate Bill 302 would create a system ineffective at oversight albeit effective at generating negative publicity at the behest of the chief executive, which appears to be the larger aim of this bill. The investigator general envisioned in this legislation would be hand-picked by appointees of the governor. That makes the position a political appointment — hardly an independent watch dog.”
In response to the federal tax bill’s adverse impact on Maryland taxpayers, the Maryland Senate passed legislation to allow Marylanders to continue to take the personal exemption on their taxes — estimated to save taxpayers from a $730 million tax increase. The bill, which is considered the least controversial in a set of competing responses to the GOP-backed tax reform law, passed unanimously in the Senate. Gov. Hogan and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have dueling plans on how to preserve itemized deductions for higher-income earners and it remains unclear whether the two sides will reach a compromise.
One underreported effect of the new national tax law is a provision that allows families to receive a tax deduction for money spent through 529 plans for private K-12 education — now known as the Ted Cruz provision. This will likely cost the state of Maryland $31 million per year in combined state and local tax revenue. Fortunately, legislators are working on a way to ensure important public school funding isn’t re-directed to private schools through this neo-voucher scheme. Del. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard-District 12) has introduced legislation (HB644) to make sure private K-12 education expenses are not eligible for state tax deductions. MSEA is waiting on analysis from the Department of Legislative Services to find the most effective way to protect public school funding.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn worried lawmakers this week when he told a panel of senators that the state was prepared to let Amazon have full discretion over Maryland’s transportation decisions if that’s what it takes to win HQ2. He’s quoted as saying, “Our statement for HQ2 is we’ll provide whatever is necessary to Amazon when they need it. For all practical purposes, it’s a blank check.”
In response to public outcry that Maryland would put the needs of Amazon over the people of the state, Gov. Hogan’s office backtracked from Secretary Rahn’s comments, claiming he misspoke. But promising $5 billion to a private company follows a pattern of corporate welfare from the Hogan Administration, which has cut special deals for Marriot and Northrop Grumman at the expense of taxpayers who are left making up the lost revenue for critical public services.
In surprise news on Thursday, Budget and Taxation Chairman Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore and Howard-District 12) announced he will forego his re-election campaign and retire at the end of his term. His distinguished career of 30+ years in elected office includes eight years leading the budget-writing committee.
Earlier this week, Ben Cardin filed to run for his third term in the U.S. Senate. The announcement had been expected, but is now official just a few weeks ahead of Maryland’s February 27 candidate filing deadline. He served as top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2015–2018, and now serves as the ranking member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. He will face four other Democrats in the June 26 primary.
SEIU 1199 is leading an independent expenditure committee designed to support former NAACP President Ben Jealous’ campaign for governor. Maryland Together We Rise is prohibited from coordinating directly with the Jealous campaign but is expected to tout his resume as a civil rights leader and his work on issues related to jobs, economic opportunity, and health care.