And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
Monday was the “crossover” deadline date in the legislative calendar for legislation to get through one chamber of the legislature to guarantee consideration in the other chamber. Several bills in play are MSEA priorities to address education staffing shortages, pay issues, and antidiscrimination. Legislation that a chamber passes after the deadline is referred to the Rules Committee of the opposite chamber for possible further consideration instead of being assigned directly to a committee of jurisdiction.
Senate Bill 831, which MSEA has fought for to improve education support professional (ESP) wages, passed unanimously (46-0) in the Senate on Tuesday. Sponsored by Senator Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery), SB831 was referred to the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. The legislation, crossfiled with House Bill 1349 sponsored by Delegate Shaneka Henson (D-Anne Arundel), addresses the crisis in the recruitment and retention of ESPs, who are essential to the daily functioning of our schools, whether they are driving buses, preparing and serving meals, assisting in the classroom, maintaining buildings and technology, keeping records and implementing protocols, or any of the many other critical roles they fill.
For the short-term, the legislation would give support staff $500 bonuses in both FY23 and FY24, and for long-term progress it would establish a workgroup to explore the best ways to improve support staff wages and make recommendations to the General Assembly for future legislation. MSEA would have a seat on the workgroup. Click here to contact your legislators and urge them to support this legislation to raise ESP wages.
Money for the ESP legislation should not be an issue, with the Board of Revenue Estimates projecting a $7.5 billion general fund surplus across FY22 and FY23 (see previous coverage in Up the Street). With money to spare and needs pressing, legislators see an opportunity to make one-time expenditures for a variety of programs. Boding well for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the Senate passed the FY23 budget unanimously with $800 million more for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund. That is a significant step in continuing to fund the out-years of the landmark education plan and ensure that all students in all schools will continue to benefit from the expanded programs and staffing levels promised by the Blueprint.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) expressed gratitude for a bipartisan consensus on a budget that he said demonstrates high value for health and public safety. He acknowledged that the estimated budget surplus opens possibilities. “This is the year that we have the opportunity to do something pretty remarkable,” Ferguson said.
The House passed their version of the budget in a 113-15 vote on Thursday with the understanding that some details need to be reconciled in a conference committee. Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) expressed optimism and realism: “We are in really close agreement with the Senate,” she said. “We’re going to have one heck of a conference committee.”
Last Friday, the House voted 94-36 to pass House Bill 850, the antidiscrimination legislation that is one of MSEA’s priorities. It is now in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The legislation, which MSEA has long advocated for, would prohibit all publicly funded schools from discriminating based on race, ethnicity, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. MSEA has worked with Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery) and Senator Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City), along with coalition partners Disability Rights Maryland, ACLU, and FreeState Justice to advance this important bill.
Senate Bill 410/House Bill 743, which would help address the staffing shortages across the state by enabling qualified retired educators to fill vital roles without financial penalty, have also passed in their respective chambers. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has HB743 for review, and SB410 was heard in the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. MSEA supports this legislation, which would exempt a reemployed retired educator from the usual earnings cap. The law would apply to reemployment occurring from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2024, a direct response to the staffing crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. The bills are sponsored by the Special Joint Subcommittee on Pensions chairs Senator Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) and Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City).
This measure would encourage experienced retired educators to fill vacancies multiplying while active educators are leaving the profession earlier than planned and too few aspiring educators are in the pipeline to keep up with attrition and fill new positions.
On Tuesday, MSEA President Cheryl Bost, Vice President Theresa Dudley, and Treasurer Joe Coughlin were invited to make a presentation as key stakeholders at the Maryland State Board of Education meeting. They emphasized the need to implement the Blueprint with fidelity and to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that make social-emotional health a priority for students and staff. They shared the burnout that MSEA members encounter daily and that are driving too many educators to leave the profession. Bost urged the board to support the transformational Blueprint to help students and to include educator voices at the forefront, ensuring that an increasingly diverse and professional workforce is heard. “We want opportunities to lead,” Bost told the board.
House Bill 172, sponsored by Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), would allow union dues to be factored in as a subtraction modification from income taxes. The bill passed in the House on third reader (95-35) on March 18 and is scheduled for a hearing on March 30 in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona warned that the test scores showing pandemic-related negative impacts on learning may instigate a push to privatize education by public school critics. “We have to collectively, as a profession, use the data to spotlight the need, but be wary of where its being used as a hammer,” Cardona said. “Because in those places where it’s being used as a hammer, those folks fed kids, those folks knocked on doors, they used their buses to drop off meals where those kids needed it.”
In the Republican race for governor, former Hogan administration Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz received Gov. Hogan’s endorsement in a long-telegraphed announcement.
The past week included developments on the Democratic side of the aisle as well. Tom Perez, former U.S. labor secretary under President Obama, launched an ad highlighting remarks given by Obama during his term in office describing Perez. In Prince George’s County, State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) announced her support for Wes Moore. In his bid for governor, Jon Baron picked Natalie Williams to be his lieutenant governor.