And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
Yesterday, the Senate passed their version of the budget bill (HB 100) by a unanimous 47–0 vote, sending the legislation to a conference committee that will be tasked with reconciling the 103 differences between House and Senate plans. Chief among those differences are several education matters, including FY20 funding levels for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (HB 1413/SB 1030) — legislation to implement Kirwan Commission recommendations the next two years — and the BOOST private school voucher program.
The Senate plan provides $225 million in the FY20 budget for implementing Kirwan Commission recommendations, nearly $100 million less than the House included in their provision. The difference is made up by scaling back increases in special education funding. But the same plan proposes creating a revenue stream specifically for more special education funding that is linked to an online sales tax. If that revenue proposal passes and yields projected revenue in FY20, the difference between the Senate position and House position could be much less than the current $95 million. The Senate made the decision to reduce the House’s plan because of affordability concerns around funding the $750 million recommended mandate for next year in FY21.
Debating how much new funding to add to our public schools is a good problem to have — but now we need to make sure that this legislation passes and we get as much new funding as possible for our schools and students.
We raised our voices at the March for Our Schools, showing legislators how much support there is to increase funding for our schools. Now it’s time to raise our voices again to make sure that we get this legislation across the finish line and add much-needed new funding to our schools. Click here to email your legislators!
The Senate budget also contains $10 million for the BOOST private school voucher program — $3 million more than last year’s budget and the full amount proposed by Gov. Hogan — though they hardly reached that decision through consensus. The Senate Budget and Tax Committee split 7–6 in favor of keeping BOOST funding intact, with more Democrats opposed than in support. Last week, the House passed a budget that begins phasing out BOOST by limiting vouchers to those who have already received them or their siblings. The two chambers will have to come to an agreement between those two positions in their final budget.
One other important difference between the Senate and House budgets? The House included $500 million for school construction, while the Senate included $445 million (both amounts are greater than in previous years). The House built on that progress by passing legislation this week, called the “Build to Learn Act,” to cement a $2.2 billion increase in school construction funding over several years.
The bill (HB 727), sponsored by House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery-District 15), sets aside $125 million annually from the Education Trust Fund starting in FY21 for the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue bonds that pay for school construction. That continues each year for 30 years in order to underwrite the revenue bonds necessary to make this program work. The counties will still have to match state funding according to the current formula that takes into account county wealth and ability to pay (the state share for each county can be found on page 9 of this document). That formula was updated in January and will next be updated in January 2021.
Education support professionals making less than $15 an hour got some welcome news this week when House and Senate leaders reached a compromise that will steadily raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2025. The bill was then approved by the House and Senate with veto-proof supermajorities and now goes to Gov. Hogan’s desk. The governor has voiced opposition to raising wages for low-income workers, saying doing so would “devastate our state’s economy,” but so far has not committed to signing or vetoing the legislation.
The compromise reached will allow an extra year and half (July 1, 2026) for businesses with fewer than 15 employees to reach the $15 minimum, so that does not impact ESP who are employees of county school systems.
In a bizarre verbal tirade during his Monday press conference, Gov. Hogan gave a series of criticisms to the legislature for not advancing his agenda and instead prioritizing public school funding and raising the minimum wage. In addition to calling the General Assembly “pro-criminal” for not wanting to arm school resource officers in Baltimore City schools, the governor suggested Democrats are being fiscally reckless for advancing a plan to address school underfunding.
Gov. Hogan did not announce any new proposals and largely demurred on how he would respond to passed bills during his press conference.
On Monday, the Maryland House of Delegates passed legislation (HB 1253) sponsored by Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery-District 18), to lower the amount of lead officially considered acceptable in school drinking fountains to the lowest scientifically detectable amount. It also creates a $1.7 million grant program to assist local school systems with replacing pipes and water foundations. The legislation is cross-filed in the Senate (SB 481) and sponsored by Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City-District 45)
The bill brings Maryland in line with the Food and Drug Administration’s limit for lead in bottled water of 5 parts per billion. According to The Baltimore Sun, “State tests this year found elevated levels of lead in water from 519 school drinking water fountains or sinks across the state, including 229 in Montgomery County, 67 in St. Mary’s County, 58 in Anne Arundel County, 55 in Baltimore County and 48 in Howard County.”
MSEA supports the legislation.
Last night, MSEA President Cheryl Bost joined me to give a session update on all things school funding, ESP living wage, and more. If you missed that conversation, you can watch the video here.
You can also catch Cheryl’s Tuesday appearance on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, when she talked about the need to pass the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and increase school funding.