Maryland House Approves Less Testing, More Learning Act Unanimously

And other legislative updates in MSEA’s Up the Street

MSEA President Betty Weller stands with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, Maryland PTA President Elizabeth Leight, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, and Baltimore City educators at Tuesday’s press conference pushing back on private school vouchers.

*The March to Protect Our Schools*

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House Approves Less Testing, More Learning Act Unanimously

On Tuesday, the Less Testing, More Learning Act (HB461/SB452) soared through the House of Delegates, receiving a unanimous 139–0 vote. It now moves to the Senate, where the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee started its work on the bill yesterday. It has 31 Senate co-sponsors, well more than the 24 votes needed for passage.

The bill — sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery-District 14) and Sen. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery-District 19) — would limit all federal, state, and district mandated testing to 2% of annual instruction time, or 21.6 hours in elementary and middle schools and 23.4 hours in high schools. Currently, 17 districts have at least one grade level above the 2% threshold.

MSEA President Betty Weller released a statement after the House passage, saying in part, “Educators across the state of Maryland applaud the House of Delegates for their leadership in addressing our over-testing crisis. This unanimous vote today sends a strong signal that educator voices have been heard and the time for waiting is over.”

County Executives, Public Education Advocates Push Back Against Privatization

Also on Tuesday, MSEA stood with County Executives Kevin Kamenetz (Baltimore County) and Rushern Baker (Prince George’s), former NAACP President Ben Jealous, the ACLU of Maryland, AFT-Maryland, and the Maryland PTA to urge the House of Delegates to remove funding for private school vouchers in their budget. During the second big “Protect Our Schools” press conference of the legislative session, President Betty Weller strongly outlined how private school vouchers fail to help low-income students while taking much needed funding away from the 85% of kids in the state who attend public schools.

Following the press conference, MSEA and other advocates dropped off a coalition letter to House and Senate offices, building momentum against the program. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to make a decision in the next couple of weeks. You can see press coverage of the event on WBAL, WTOP, WMAR, NBC4, and the Washington Informer.

Meanwhile, Gov. Hogan’s other major school privatization proposal — his Charter School Fraud Bill (HB878/SB704) — was defeated in the Ways and Means Committee this week. The bill — which would have created a separate chartering board to go around local school board authority, diverted both operating and facilities funding from traditional public schools to charter schools, took away collective bargaining rights from charter school educators, and permitted non-certified teachers at charter schools — is similar to the failed experiments in Michigan by Betsy DeVos.

MSEA Testifies in Support of the Protect Our Schools Act

This week, President Betty Weller and Vice President Cheryl Bost led an MSEA panel in support of the Protect Our Schools Act (HB978/SB871) — sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery-District 14) in the House and Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery-District 14) in the Senate — explaining that the legislation would prevent school privatization, reduce standardized testing, and help close opportunity gaps through implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The legislation received support from several important organizations, including superintendents and school boards.

To read more about the Protect Our Schools Act — MSEA’s top legislative priority for the 2017 General Assembly session — click here.


Gov. Hogan’s Approval Rating Drops Eleven Points

For the first time as governor, Larry Hogan’s job approval rating fell in the latest Goucher Poll — eleven points from the most recent poll conducted by Gonzales Research in January. The 63% approval rating is still high, but the decrease signals a possible change in the Maryland political landscape in the aftermath of President Trump’s inauguration. Since Trump took office, Gov. Hogan has failed to take a stance on congressional plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump Administration’s Muslim travel ban, Betsy DeVos’ controversial nomination and confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Education, and efforts to ramp up deportation of immigrants. His silence has been consistently protested by Marylanders across the state.

Gov. Hogan Calls Baltimore City Schools an “Absolute Disaster”

During an appearance on a WBAL conservative talk radio show, Gov. Hogan unleashed his usual disregard for Maryland public schools, saying, “The Baltimore City school system is an absolute disaster… there’s just no fiscal responsibility. We want to help the city every way we can, but we’re not just going to write blank checks.” The comments come after Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh stood in front of the State House asking for the governor’s help in closing a $130 million school system budget deficit. The City Schools CEO has said that if they do not get additional funding from the state, there will be massive lay-offs and cuts to summer and arts programs.

Maryland Ranks #5 in Education According to U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News and World Report released their first ever state rankings this week, measuring states on a variety of measures, including education. Maryland ranked in fifth place — the same slot as the most recent Education Week rankings — based on a number of metrics, including pre-kindergarten enrollment, high school graduation rates, college readiness, and NAEP scores. Maryland finished in 8th place in the overall rankings.

Maryland Democrats Rally Against Trump Hours Before Joint Address

On Tuesday, the Maryland Democratic Party held a rally on Lawyers Mall in Annapolis to protest Donald Trump’s agenda just hours before he gave his joint address to Congress. President Betty Weller spoke to the crowd about the importance of protecting our public schools from the Trump-DeVos-Hogan agenda and instead offered a different path of prioritizing our public schools through reductions in standardized testing, closing opportunity gaps, and increasing funding. Sure enough, President Trump devoted several minutes in his speech to the topic of school privatization, promising a plan to give at-risk students vouchers to attend the school of their choice — a failed policy that strips funding from public schools and eerily familiar to the messaging of Gov. Hogan on the same topic.


Former NAACP President Ben Jealous Considers Run for Governor

After speaking at MSEA’s press conference on Tuesday, several reporters asked Ben Jealous about rumors that he is planning a run for Maryland governor. The former NAACP president didn’t deny the news and said he has given new thought to the idea now that Trump is in the White House. He joins Kevin Kamenetz, Rushern Baker, and Congressman John Delaney (D-District 6) as possible candidates.

New Democratic Party Leadership

Last weekend, the Democratic National Committee finally elected their new chair: Maryland’s own Tom Perez, the former U.S. (and Maryland) Labor Secretary. His victory gives Maryland Democrats an advantage on the national stage, which could come into play with governor and senate races in 2018. Meanwhile, the Maryland Democratic Party elected its own new chair (on an interim basis) in Kathleen Matthews, the former candidate for Congressional District 8.