And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
On Monday during a Read Across America celebration of MSEA’s donation of books at Old Post Elementary School in Harford County, Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller reiterated the Moore-Miller Administration’s commitment to public education. Miller noted that Read Across America’s promotion of books with diverse authors, characters, and stories aligns with the administration’s promise to focus on equity for all students.
“Read Across America celebrates the joy of books in making students readers, learners, and dreamers. The Moore-Miller Administration will continue to have the backs of educators and students to ensure every child in Maryland has the opportunity to develop a lifelong love of reading,” said Lt. Gov. Miller.
Earlier this month the General Assembly recognized MSEA’s Read Across America program, which will donate nearly 1,000 books that feature diversity among authors and characters to schools and students around the state.
The House passed Gov. Wes Moore’s Educator Shortage Act (House Bill 1219) in a 132-6 vote on Wednesday. That version of the legislation has crossed over to the Senate, where it is assigned to the Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee and the Budget and Taxation Committee. This legislation, also originally crossfiled as Senate Bill 893, was heavily amended in the House while still preserving the goals of addressing the shortage and diversifying the pipeline. MSEA will seek amendments to restore the standalone Grow Your Own program to support education support professionals as originally written in the governor’s bill, and looks forward to continuing to work with the legislature and the administration to make the bill as strong as possible.
The Board of Revenue Estimates (BRE) last week wrote down the projected revenues for the remainder of this fiscal year and all of next fiscal year by a combined $478 million, which was unsurprising given the general view of state economists and others that the economy has been slowing down. In deliberations over the fiscal year 2024 budget, the House Appropriations Committee led by Chair Ben Barnes (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel) took the BRE projections into account and still allocated an additional $400 million in forward funding for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. That would be on top of the $500 million that the governor already included in his initial budget proposal. The budget passed the full House on second reader on Thursday and is expected to pass the House on Friday.
In their votes and deliberations, the House also maintained Gov. Moore’s reduced funding for the BOOST private school vouchers program, which has been siphoning public dollars away from public schools mostly to the benefit of families already attending private schools. MSEA supports the governor’s prudent reduction and phase-out of the program.
On Wednesday Senate Bill 610, a bill Gov. Hogan vetoed last year that would establish guardrails around virtual education, passed out of the Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee. It then passed on second reader in the full Senate on Thursday with a vote for final passage in that chamber as early as today. This legislation includes guidance for districts that establish virtual schools to ensure that they reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of each county, exclude for-profit providers, and employ local school district staff.
On Thursday, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee advanced Senate Bill 735, legislation which would establish a workgroup to address education support professional (ESP) wages. SB735, sponsored by Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery), was jointly assigned to the Education, Energy and the Environment Committee, where it awaits a vote. This bill should be before the full Senate this weekend and in advance of the Monday crossover date, a target date to help with the viability of any bill being considered in the opposite chamber before the end of session. This Senate action was on the heels of a Tuesday hearing on House Bill 1234, the crossfile of SB735, in the House Ways and Means Committee. Del. Melissa Wells (D-Baltimore City) sponsored the bill to help identify long-term solutions to chronically low ESP wages. The workgroup would make recommendations to the General Assembly for future legislation, and MSEA would have a seat on the workgroup. MSEA President Cheryl Bost testified to the critical need to pay ESPs better: “They deserve to work one job to make ends meet,” she said. “They are underpaid and undervalued.”
House Bill 2, allowing a subtraction modification from state income taxes for union dues up to $250, passed the House in a vote of 101-35. It was referred to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee for consideration. This legislation was introduced since the deduction was eliminated as an option at the federal level during the Trump Administration.
Harford County teacher Jacob Bennett, who won election in 2022 to the Harford County Council, will appeal a Harford County Circuit Court ruling to the Maryland Supreme Court. Bennett, a first-time candidate, ran a grassroots campaign with MSEA’s strong support and won a close race for a seat on the county council. Newly elected Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly, a former state senator who often took anti-public education positions during his time in Annapolis, immediately launched an effort to bully Bennett off the council, including a legal case to disqualify him. Arguments in the case are scheduled for April 4 in the State Supreme Court.
With a coveted AAA bond rating, on Wednesday the state sold $400 million in general obligation bonds that will pay for education infrastructure and other construction projects. The sale included $350 million of tax-exempt bonds and $50 million of taxable bonds. The tax-exempt general obligation bonds are used to finance essential capital projects such as public schools, community colleges, university projects, and hospitals. State Treasurer Dereck Davis emphasized the value of the top bond rating and the uses for the money. “Despite the uncertainty of our economy, rating agencies continue to have confidence in Maryland’s sound fiscal policies,” Davis said. “[The] news ensures that the interest rates on the state’s bonds remain low, saving Maryland taxpayers millions of dollars that can be invested in our state’s critical needs like education, infrastructure, and public safety.” Maryland is one of 13 states to hold a AAA rating, which is the highest possible.
Effective March 21, Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery) will resign his seat to join the Moore Administration in the Department of Human Services as assistant secretary for inter-departmental data integration. He has served in the 39th district since 2007.
All 24 school districts submitted their first Blueprint implementation plans to the Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB) in time to meet the March 15 deadline. All the plans are published on the AIB website; to meet approval in this first round of submissions, districts needed only to respond to all of the questions. Approval will assure that all of a district’s fiscal year 2023 state education funding will be distributed. AIB Executive Director Rachel Hise emphasized to the AIB that the expectation is that all district plans will be approved, and if any plan has a shortcoming it will be addressed with the district immediately so that the plan can be approved. The AIB is scheduled to vote to release FY23 funds at its April Board meeting.