And other end of session updates in MSEA’s Up the Street
At midnight on Monday, the 442nd Maryland General Assembly session adjourned sine die having enacted transformative new laws out of the 2,771 pieces of legislation introduced. MSEA closely tracked nearly 400 of those bills, which overlapped with MSEA legislative priorities. MSEA navigated new pandemic legislative operating procedures to conduct advocacy online and in writing, and testified concerning 123 bills virtually at hearings throughout session.
The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic drove MSEA’s short- and long-term priorities to secure resources to safely and sustainably operate schools with in-person learning and to recover from the pandemic; to pass and implement over the next decade the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future to restore equity where it has systemically been denied; to fight for imperative progress for racial and social justice; to ensure that every student no matter their zip code has a world-class education; and to support educators and expand bargaining rights. Progress and victories were evident in all of those priority areas, making it a successful session for Maryland educators, students, and schools.
Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and the systemic injustices it has exacerbated were the primary focus of this session. The most long-term and fundamental change we could make in this regard was indeed our main focus going into the 2021 session: overriding Gov. Hogan’s veto of the transformational Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
In February, both chambers of the legislature convincingly overrode the veto, thereby capping MSEA’s multiyear campaign for a new, more equitable funding formula for our schools. This once-in-a-generation achievement will lead to hiring more educators and paying them professional salaries and expanding early childhood education opportunities, career and technical education, community schools, supports for English language learners, and special education and mental health resources. Although it was created before the coronavirus pandemic, the Blueprint contains the educational, social-emotional, and career supports to enable students and Maryland to recover from the pandemic.
The override of the governor’s veto required legislation to, at a minimum, update implementation dates in the Blueprint legislation that were delayed due to the veto. MSEA lobbied for equity-based improvements and pandemic-related program expansion in the companion legislation, HB 1372, that updated the Blueprint implementation timeline. The bill passed 94-37 in the House and 37-10 in the Senate. Hogan opted to let the bill become law without his signature, clinging to his unsubstantiated fiscal arguments against the Blueprint.
HB 1372 is now enacted, establishing a two-year timeframe to address the acute impacts of the pandemic and helps launch a decade of Blueprint programs to address longstanding inequities that disproportionately affect students of color and students living in areas of concentrated poverty. Tutoring and summer school for students who experienced learning gaps during the pandemic are the focus of immediate funding through the companion legislation. In the bill, MSEA also successfully lobbied to allow district-designed, rather than state-dictated standardized, testing of those students, and to ensure that pay incentives associated with new summer and after-school programs are bargained and available for all impacted school employees.
Overriding the governor’s veto of the Blueprint also restored the Built to Learn Act, a $2.2 billion investment in school construction. That means repairs and renovations can begin on crumbling and unhealthy schools, to enable safe physical environments are established during and well after the pandemic. There is no excuse for schools with antiquated and malfunctioning water and ventilation systems.
The federal response and relief efforts included $3 billion from three tranches of federal coronavirus relief for education since March 2020 that has been or will be allocated in the state. In the latest relief package, the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), nearly $2 billion will go to Maryland schools, or about $2,200 per student. For more details on what the ARP will mean for our schools, click here. Over the next two years, some of the federal funding will backfill the state education budget and Blueprint funds. Districts will also not be impacted by pandemic-related drops in enrollment; this school year’s artificially low enrollment counts will not factor into future years’ funding calculations for either state or local education aid.
The federal response staved off financial disaster for many people who lost their jobs, were in danger of losing their homes though eviction and foreclosure, and needed supplies of personal protective equipment and access to vaccines. Separate from the financial effects, long-term social-emotional effects on families who lost loved ones, risked their lives to keep working, and who suffer from lingering symptoms will continue for some time.
Despite the pandemic, state revenues from sales and income tax and from gambling were higher than predicted a year ago. The grim reality is that thousands of Marylanders lost their jobs, and while the state did not feel the tax revenue pain, that is largely because many workers who lost their jobs were such low wage workers that it had a relatively small impact on state tax revenue. This begs a larger problem with wage disparities and the need for living wages in Maryland—a fight MSEA will continue into the future.
The $52.4 billion fiscal year 2022 budget, HB 588, that passed with no fewer than five supplements was a win for education. Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones carried through on their promise to pass legislation that offers real relief and remediation from the pandemic, doubling the size of the RELIEF Act that the governor submitted. The state’s Rainy Day Fund has been restored to $1.4 billion, or 6% of the general fund. Unfortunately, the governor’s BOOST vouchers program made it through the budget process again this year to the tune of $10 million. MSEA and a strong coalition of advocates will continue the fight to end this ill-conceived and unnecessary program which largely benefits families already sending their children to private and religious schools.
The legislature’s overrides of the governor’s misguided 2020 vetoes of the Tobacco, Sales and Use Tax and Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax (HB 732, 2020), and the 21st Century Economy Fairness Act (HB 932, 2020) will help shore up the state budget and help to fund the Blueprint in the out years. The digital advertising tax collects revenue specifically for education by levying a tax on large online advertising companies like Google and Facebook that profit from Maryland consumers and have paid no state taxes. SB 787, which passed this session, updates the tax by prohibiting directly passing on the cost of the tax to a customer through a separate fee, surcharge, or line-item.
The 21st Century Economy Act collects revenue from the sale of digital products, with the revenue going to the Blueprint for Maryland Future Fund. Funding necessary for the Blueprint’s first several years is in hand from revenue sources that were dedicated to it, thanks to prudent planning by legislators several years ago. With implementation, work to fund the out years will be necessary to maintain the faithful implementation of the Blueprint for the entirety of the dozen-year phase-in plan.
A further revenue stream for education was passed on Sine Die when lawmakers finalized the licensing structure for sports gambling that voters approved in Question 2 last November. Some 100 licenses will go to sports venues, tracks and online vendors for sports gambling. The new source of education funding is estimated to raise $20 million annually.
The legislature passed HB 1238/SB 779 to close the loophole that allowed at least one family to collect thousands of dollars more than the intended state matching funds for college savings plans. The legislation will cap at $9,000 the amount of matching funds per student payable from the state on 529 college savings plans.
In a move encouraging transparency and defending key priorities like public schools, the General Assembly also passed HB 133/SB 30 to limit the depth of the cuts the governor could make, with the approval of the Board of Public Works, to larger scale items in the state’s operating budget and increasing the amount of advance public notice required before cuts are voted upon.
While the Blueprint’s laser focus on equity and efforts to erase gaps in opportunity will be transformational, a number of MSEA-supported bills fought to further the causes of equity and racial and social justice.
At last, this was the year for the overdue settlement with the state’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs): Bowie State, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. SB 1/HB 1 intersects with MSEA’s priority of equity and social justice, delivering a $577 million settlement with the four HBCUs. Between fiscal years 2023 and 2032, each HBCU will get roughly $57 million per year. The settlement addresses the funding inequity that the state perpetrated for generations. MSEA advocated strongly for this settlement again this year because empowering the HBCUs to achieve their potential is both right and beneficial to the diversification of the educator workforce that is essential to the Blueprint.
The overwhelming support for establishing the Commission on LGBTQ Affairs in HB 130 is a win for equity and antidiscrimination policies. The legislation, sponsored by Delegate Lily Qi (D-15), passed 102-27 in the House on February 16 and 38-8 in the Senate on Sine Die. The House then concurred with the Senate-amended version of the bill. This legislation upholds MSEA’s principle that every individual must be protected from all forms of discrimination and stereotyping based on race, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, age, occupation, disabilities, gender, gender identification, and sexual orientation. The LGBTQ community deserves the same kind of representation in the governor’s Office of Community Initiatives as other existing ethnic and cultural commissions, and will help ensure that the LGBTQ community has a seat at the table to tell their stories and to advocate for the community’s needs. MSEA fully endorsed the establishment of the Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, which will produce an annual report on policies to help end LGBTQ discrimination among other activities.
One of MSEA’s biggest fights and victories this session was the passage of HB 1322, which was sponsored by education ally Del. Alonzo Washington (D-22), in response to a spate of school systems’ inflexible responses to requests for accommodations during the pandemic. This bill passed in the House on March 17 by a 96-39 vote, then in the Senate with amendments on April 10 by a 30-15 vote, and the House concurred with the Senate version on Sine Die by a 61-vote margin. This bill gives educators a fairer accommodations process and protects them during the pandemic from being forced to choose between their job and health. HB 1322 prevents retaliation against educators who have the option to work virtually, are 65 or older, have an underlying medical condition identified by the CDC as putting them at greater risk from coronavirus (or who live in a household with, or are the primary caretaker for, an individual who meets either of those conditions), have not been vaccinated, and who choose not to return to in-person instruction. The bill would also prevent the suspension or revocation of certifications should an educator choose not to instruct in-person during the 2020-21 school year.
A hard-fought victory came with the passage of HB 894 to give collective bargaining rights to MSEA’s educator partners at community colleges. If Governor Hogan vetoes the legislation, an override should be possible given the strong votes in the House and Senate when the legislation was passed. MSEA has battled for community colleges to gain these rights for years, and this year rallied the support of a broad coalition of advocacy groups as well as the leaders of the state’s largest jurisdictions. This victory presents educators with an opportunity to grow in strength.
HB 155/SB 98, a timely and needed antidiscrimination bill, didn’t make it across the finish line, even though the strong House version of the bill passed that chamber 92-45 on February 25. The legislation would prevent discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, or disability by any school that receives public funding, whether that school is public or private. MSEA pushed for favorable votes on the bill so that the state can draw a hard line to prevent any publicly funded school from discriminating. MSEA’s advocacy for this important law will continue.
Del. Gabriel Acevero’s (D-39) legislation, HB 140, to establish the Commission on History, Culture, and Civics in Education was another bill that MSEA supported which did not advance this year. The state has a diverse population with rich histories that are typically not fully reflected in the curriculum. Students frequently have no opportunity to experience a curriculum that recognizes the historic contributions of people of color and indigenous populations. The commission could have supported “further discovery, interpretation, and learning” through annual recommendations to the State Board of Education, governor, and General Assembly.
The creative pandemic-driven lobbying hoops that education supporters jumped through this session made the difference, as ever. Whether through socially distanced press conferences, virtual testimony at hearings, or the more traditional emails and phone calls, educator voices matter to lawmakers, who heard MSEA members and supporters who advocated for the issues important to educators and students. MSEA is grateful for the activists who made such an important contribution to advance lobbying efforts and win important victories this session.
Still, as always, the work must continue. The landmark victory of seeing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future enacted is a cause for celebration, but also means it’s time for educators to make sure their voices are heard in local implementation plans as the Blueprint funds and programs scale up at the district level. Educators’ voices were critical to passing this transformative funding formula—and those voices must continue to be heard so the Blueprint achieves its mission to provide every student a world-class education no matter where they live.