To Protect Educator Jobs and Safety, We Must Win on School Funding

The time to get involved is now.

Photo © Stephen Cherry

Educators around the state are concerned about job security, losing work hours, and protecting their salary and safety during the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout. Uncertainty about the future contributes to anxiety and trauma at a time when anxiety is already high because of the risk from coronavirus. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and many local systems have made few concrete decisions about the future, further fueling the uncertainty.

As we prepare for the next school year, MSEA has educators’ backs in the fight to protect jobs, add staff, maintain salaries and hours, and develop necessary safety protocols before reopening schools. We are getting answers to members’ questions and publishing information as it becomes available on our website. We are advocating to make sure that no educator or education support professional (ESP) has a reduction in pay or hours as a result of the pandemic. We are fighting to ensure that school systems honor their contracts with employees. And before schools reopen we are advocating for careful planning that includes educator and community voices and is grounded in the latest science. If the next school year is to be safe and successful, educator voices absolutely must be at the table to make the right decisions and plans.

The Potential Economic Impact of Coronavirus on Education

The coronavirus’s economic effects could cost Maryland 44,088 educator jobs, according to estimates from the National Education Association (NEA). The economic impact of the pandemic on sales tax and other education-supporting revenues is estimated to leave Maryland short hundreds of millions of dollars compared to projected revenues prior to the pandemic. The state benefited from new federal funding in the CARES Act, which passed in March. Nationwide $13 billion was slated for public elementary and secondary schools and $14 billion for higher education; the remainder was earmarked for a governors’ emergency education fund, which could be used for either school districts or colleges. Maryland received $208 million earmarked for education recovery specifically and millions for the state to use at the governor’s discretion.

While the CARES Act helped to backfill potential lost revenue, our students won’t just need the same level of support during the next school year — they’ll need even more to overcome the inequities exposed and deepened during this year’s crisis distance learning. That’s exactly why the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the General Assembly this year, is so important. The Blueprint contains millions of dollars for additional staff, community school funding, special education funding, increased equity, and career and technical education that would hasten the state’s economic recovery and lift all Marylanders up financially. The governor’s veto has put those programs on hold. Overriding his veto and enacting the Blueprint will better support educators, ESPs and, of course, students.

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And at the local level, there is a great deal of funding advocacy that educators must do as well in order to defend the people, services, and programs that students depend on. Reopening schools will likely require modifying the way education and wraparound services are delivered, from classroom configurations to safely getting students in and out of the buildings and supplying equipment to engage them in classes at home if distance learning is required. Heightened attention to building maintenance, sanitization products, and personal protective equipment will be needed, and safe in-person education will require fewer students in classrooms and additional educators. Students will need extra academic, social-emotional, and mental health support to recover from trauma and make up lost academic ground. All of these initiatives require funding and educator voices to make sure they are successful.

Our Path to Winning on School Funding

We need to be activists at the federal, state, and local levels to secure the funding that our students and schools need to be safe and successful during the next school year. Here’s how:

Urge Congress to Pass the HEROES Act

Additional federal relief is needed and would be available in the federal HEROES Act, HR6800. It would provide $60 billion to states for education, and as drafted the HEROES Act would bring nearly $1.4 billion to Maryland for education. The bill also includes about $1 trillion in aid to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments, which is intended to help governments fund schools as well as other government services.

The House passed HR6800 in May, but the Senate has not acted. NEA, MSEA, and other state affiliates are lobbying the U.S. Senate to pass this needed legislation. In addition to funding education equipment and staff specifically, the HEROES Act contains money for healthcare, wraparound services, family supports and services, and job support that would improve the conditions of students who have been most affected by the pandemic and from inequities that existed before the virus hit.

Funding shortfalls hit districts hardest where the inequity is the greatest. Educators in schools with the highest levels of poverty need more, not less, support during and after the pandemic. They and students will be recovering from the highest levels of trauma, brought on by health issues and food and financial insecurity.

How You Can Help: Thank Maryland’s U.S. senators for supporting the HEROES Act federal relief, and share NEA’s call to action link for the HEROES Act to rally others to contact their senators to support it.

Call on the General Assembly to Override Gov. Hogan’s Veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future

More funding should have been on the way to help Maryland’s most vulnerable students, and all students across the state. But the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future — and the new education funding formula that would have more equitably and adequately funded schools for the next decade — was frustratingly vetoed by Governor Hogan in May.

We can’t let that veto stand. We know that the public still strongly supports the Blueprint by a two-to-one margin and that students need the resources desperately. The General Assembly must override his veto when they next convene; now more than ever we need strong public schools in every neighborhood.

How You Can Help: Ask your legislators to override the governor’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Use and share this link to email your legislators and to inform others how to reach their state representatives.

Defend School Funding and Educator Voice at the Local Level

School districts will be deciding how to allocate resources for a variety of continuing and new budget items. Educators — who are on the front lines — must be part of the decision-making that will affect their students and themselves. While districts may be able to set policies, they should do so with educator input. Every school building is unique and will require educator expertise and unique preparation for safe and supportive education.

We’ll also need to work hard to ensure that jobs are protected, contracts are funded, and any new initiatives have the funding they need to be successful. And we need to make sure that all of the decisions being made are in the best interest of equity, rather than with equity as an afterthought.

How You Can Help: Be part of the conversations in local school districts that are making their reopening plans. Communicate with your local association about your concerns, and join local organizing efforts to amplify the voices and priorities of educators so that we can build the safest, most supportive teaching, learning, and working conditions for the next school year.