Session Wins Include Freedom to Read, Bills to Address Educator Shortage

And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street

The traditional confetti and balloons dropped at midnight on Sine Die. (Photo: Governor’s Office)


Successes This Session Help Address Educator Shortage, Prevent Book Bans

The 446th Maryland General Assembly legislative session adjourned sine die at midnight on Monday, having delivered wins for educators, students, and Marylanders. Throughout the 90-day session, MSEA’s lobbyists tracked approximately 400 pieces of legislation and provided testimony on 150. While many of MSEA’s legislative priorities passed, a number of other bills did not cross the finish line but raised awareness on critical topics that impact educators and students daily. We also worked successfully to prevent the passage of some bills that would have set back hard-won gains that have been made to support all students.

Victories included passing the Freedom to Read Act to prevent politicized book bans; expanding policies to attract and retain more educators; fully funding the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, and improving the outlook for community college funding. Each priority aligns with long-term MSEA and Blueprint goals.


Freedom to Read Protects Books, Professional Judgment of Educators

In the current highly politically charged environment, the Freedom to Read Act, Senate Bill 738/House Bill 785, passed as emergency legislation and will become law as soon as the governor signs it. Then Maryland will be one of the first states to protect against the politicized attacks from extremist activists who have tried to ban books and make it more difficult for readers and students who seek to study honest and accurate history. Under the law, local boards of education and county library officials must adopt state standards, consistent with the principles laid out in the legislation. The bill defends the professional judgment of educators in vetting and selecting books and should limit rampant attempts to ban books, often fomented by fringe national groups. The legislation was sponsored by Del. Dana Jones (D-Anne Arundel) and Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery), MSEA engaged with legislators and mounted an ad campaign to help this legislation pass to protect resources, students, and staff from retaliation. Legislators received nearly 8,000 emails from educators about this bill.


Expanded Educator Licensure Pathways

In the face of chronic educator shortages, MSEA has identified solutions—and worked to successfully pass them. One of three priority bills addressing the shortage is expanded pathways into teaching legislation, House Bill 945/Senate Bill 771. Sponsored by Del. Eric Ebersole (D-Baltimore County) and Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City and County), this legislation presents more options for aspiring educators to achieve certification, while keeping the standards high, as the Blueprint intends. The legislation had support from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the State Board of Education. In addition to existing pathways that rely on standardized tests like the Praxis, this legislation allows aspiring educators to take fewer tests to enter the profession if they have at least a 3.0 grade point average on their most recent degree, or have three years of effective evaluations, or satisfactorily complete an induction program with a locally developed portfolio component. Identical bills, HB945 and SB771 are ready for the governor’s signature. Both bills passed unanimously in the Senate and in the House.

Grow Your Own Programs for Education Support Professionals Successful

Another bill that passed to support the educator pipeline is MSEA’s grow your own legislation, House Bill 1157/Senate Bill 937, sponsored by Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Malcom Augustine (D-Prince George’s). Grow your own is a proven strategy to support education support professionals who want to become teachers and to increase the teacher workforce, diversity, and teacher retention. This legislation revives an original part of Gov. Moore’s 2023 Educator Shortage Reduction Act. HB1157 passed 126-12 in the House, and 47-0 in the Senate. SB937 passed unanimously in the Senate and 124-11 in the House.

Stipends for Student Educators Expanded

Another bill to support the pipeline, Senate Bill 377/House Bill 75, expands eligibility for stipends to aspiring educators who begin their studies at any state community college. This legislation builds on last year’s bill for aspiring educators that established stipends for students at some community colleges and four-year colleges. Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery) and Del. Eric Ebersole (D-Baltimore County) sponsored the respective bills, which passed unanimously in both chambers.

Pre-K Expands with Experienced Educators as Blueprint Intends

The Blueprint’s early education pillar includes expanding access to pre-kindergarten with highly qualified providers for all 3- and 4-year-olds, and it has struggled for lack of private providers as part of the mixed delivery model. The situation was about to worsen for public pre-k educators with a requirement for all pre-k paraeducators—experienced and inexperienced alike—to have either a child development associate (CDA) or an associate’s degree (AA) by the 2027-2028 school year. MSEA successfully advocated for prioritizing retention and flexibility for highly experienced pre-k paraeducators and teaching assistants as the state pursues the Blueprint mandate to increase numbers of qualified pre-k educators. House Bill 1441, sponsored by Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard), exempts pre-k paraeducators in public programs from the CDA/AA requirement if they have at least five years of experience in a publicly funded pre-k classroom by July 1, 2024.  The House voted 128-12 for HB1441, and the Senate passed it with amendments 36-11. The House passed the amended bill 121-16.


FY2025 $63 Billion Budget Funds Blueprint, Includes New Revenues

In the joint budget conference committee, the compromise on the fiscal year 2025 plan did not incorporate the House plan for $1.2 billion in new revenues from sources including a more progressive corporate tax, but did add new revenue sources that will bring in $2.1 billion over the next five years for transportation projects, education, and emergency services. An additional $1.25 per pack cigarette tax is expected to raise $91 million for k-12 education. The final $63 billion fiscal year 2025 budget, Senate Bill 360/House Bill 350, with the companion Budget Reconciliation and Finance Act, Senate Bill 362/House Bill 352, fully funds the Blueprint and retains two features that MSEA fought for: $10 million in restored community college funding and a less dire reduction to the Cade funding formula for the community colleges in future years. Faced with the emergency economic impact of the Key Bridge collapse, Gov. Moore issued an executive order to use $60 million of the state’s Rainy Day Fund, without affecting the general fund, to assist the families, workers, and businesses directly impacted by the collapse of the bridge.


Community School Families to Have Housing Assistance

Among this session’s opportunities to advocate for good legislation that linked education and housing policy was the Rental Assistance for Community School Families Program, House Bill 428/Senate Bill 370. This legislation will help community school families keep stable housing, establishing a rental assistance fund to help community school families. The General Assembly also added $10 million into the FY25 budget to fund the program. A recent poll found that 81% of Marylanders are finding housing less affordable, and 72% see a role for state government to improve the conditions. The Rental Assistance for Community School Families Program aligns with the goals set by the Blueprint to holistically address the conditions that affect students as they strive to pursue their dreams. The bills were sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery), and Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County). The House passed HB428, 103-32, and it passed with amendments in the Senate, 35-9. The House passed it with Senate amendments,101-37, and the House passed SB370 101-37.

MSEA also supported the governor’s ENOUGH Act, Senate Bill 482/House Bill 694, which launches a grant-based program to fight childhood poverty statewide. The unique approach will fund local strategies to stop generational cycles of poverty in their communities. SB482 passed 39-6 in the Senate and 106-32 in the House, with amendments. The Senate passed it with the House amendments, 38-9.


Pay Commensurate with Qualifications, Responsible Contracting Policy Still Needed

MSEA’s Blueprint improvements bill, Senate Bill 545/House Bill 789 to make educators eligible for the pay increases outlined in the Blueprint for National Board Certification (NBCT), if they hold professional certification equivalent to NBCT, did not pass this year. Still, sponsors Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) and Del. Jessica Feldmark (D-Howard) helped to advance this conversation and MSEA will continue to fight for the step in the right direction as we continue to seek ways to improve retention and curtail the educator shortage.

More work will continue for MSEA’s Responsible Contracting bill, Senate Bill 1043/House Bill 1175. This is a needed bill to establish guardrails and more transparency around the use of subcontractors at public schools. While it did not pass this year, understanding of the issue and momentum grew as legislators heard from MSEA members and other union representatives. Lobbying from our members made a big difference in legislators’ understanding of the issue and helped pave a path for progress in future legislative sessions.

Improving the Online IEP System

MSEA supported legislation by Del. April Miller (R-Frederick), House Bill 1237, that would have established a task force to study the Maryland Online IEP System (MOIEP). MOIEP, integral to students’ individual special education programs, has received harsh criticism from many special educators for its usability challenges. The bill passed the House unanimously but did not advance in the Senate this year. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) submitted testimony on the bill indicating that its Blueprint Special Education Workgroup already has plans to consider MOIEP performance issues and will make recommendations. MSEA will be vigilant to gauge MSDE’s progress with the kinds of reforms that legislation would have demanded and work to ensure that the voices of special educators are at the table as changes are considered.


Educator Autonomy, Human Rights Spared from Bad Legislation

In defense of k-12 public school educators and students, MSEA closely watched, testified against, and provided information on legislation that threatened funding, healthcare access, human rights, worker rights, and professional respect for educators. Among the ill-conceived bills that did not pass this year were bills that would have syphoned public funds away from public k-12 public schools to fund charter school construction, Senate Bill 892/House Bill 1061; codified the BOOST voucher program, House Bill 791 and House Bill 1027; used taxpayer funds to pay for STEM teachers at private schools, Senate Bill 426/House Bill 213; paid homeschool students’ tuition at community college, House Bill 500/Senate Bill 749; restricted gender-affirming care, House Bill 722; and promoted sex discrimination, Senate Bill 381/House Bill 47.


The victories this session owe much to MSEA members and activists who used their voices to advocate for the issues important to educators and students. Whether through testimony at hearings, visits to legislators’ offices, or emails and phone calls, educator voices matter to lawmakers. Every session, education activists make an important contribution to advance lobbying efforts and win important victories, and this session was no different.

Even with this year’s successes the legislative advocacy work must continue. More work needs to be done to end the educator shortage. A long-term conversation about how to improve implementation of the Blueprint and establish sustainable out-year funding for the Blueprint at the state and local level is critical. MSEA stands ready to be a partner in those conversations—especially as too many local associations grapple with disappointing leadership by some local governments to avoid doing their part to fund local schools by attempting to demonize and blame the Blueprint for their own undercutting of our schools and students. Educators’ voices must continue to be heard so the Blueprint achieves its mission to provide every student a world-class education that provides them the opportunity to pursue their dreams no matter who they are or where they live.