We Marched. They Listened.

The General Assembly passed Fix the Fund. Now it’s up to voters in November.

Educators rallied at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis before marching to Fix the Fund on March 19.

“We’re making great progress,” says MSEA President Betty Weller, “but we’re far from the finish line. Leading the Fix the Fund March with more than 1,000 educators told legislators we’re very serious. They responded by passing the Fix the Fund Act unanimously. Our students and schools need us now to make fixing the fund just the first step toward successfully closing the funding gap.”

Next up it’s the 2018 elections and the 2019 legislature when those we elect in November vote on the Kirwan Commission recommendations and a new school funding formula.

“By now, most educators know just how important that vote will be,” Weller said. “We know from an independent report that each public school in Maryland is shortchanged by an average of $2 million annually.

“We see the effects of that underfunding in our classrooms on a daily basis, and we’re laser-focused on getting the programs, services, staffing, and educator salaries we need for our students through the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission and actions of the General Assembly.”

The hard work of MSEA members is making a difference right when and where we need it to.

MSEA members circled the State House to Fix the Fund on March 19.

Building a Movement

Everyone knew something had to be done. Nearly $2 billion in casino proceeds that voters assumed would go into the Education Trust Fund to enrich public education had really just been backfilling other areas of the budget during the O’Malley and Hogan administrations.

Without fixing the fund, $500 million annually that should have been going to increasing school funding could continue to be diverted to other budget areas. If voters approve the Fix the Fund constitutional amendment in November, that $500 million will be sent — permanently — to our schools.

Thanks to a growing MSEA infrastructure of locally organized and motivated educators, members are deeply engaged in the fight for school funding and educator respect and support and understand the steps we need to take to get there. Across the state, educators are coming together to make sure students and schools secure the once-in-a-generation funding that the General Assembly will vote on in 2019.

Mobilizing to Fix the Fund

“What school doesn’t need more money to meet their students’ needs?” said Kate Snyder, an Anne Arundel County teacher who trained in grassroots organizing with MSEA’s GO Teams and put what she’s learned to work for the march.

“Getting my colleagues mobilized to Fix the Fund was all about making connections between the legislation to Fix the Fund and their jobs, classrooms, and students.

“We’ve found that now, more than ever, educators need each other. We shared our frustrations and hopes for our jobs and students and it really resonated.

“Once we had people talking about the $3 billion hole in state funding, it was an easy transition to how that money should be spent locally. If we don’t have supportive local politicians our work is only half-done. We need a county executive and council who will put the money where their mouths are. The election in November is our focus now.”

In 2016, Carroll County educator Kathryn Henn spoke out in Annapolis against the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. She came back to town for the Fix the Fund march. Educators in Carroll County have been mobilizing for months — finding the support they need in their union to fight back against stagnant pay and inadequate resources.

“These aren’t just Carroll County problems. These are Maryland problems and we should all be concerned. I urge my colleagues in every county to get involved. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be heard.”

In Calvert County, educators like Siobhan Tedtsen helped their county exceed their rally attendance goal by more than 300%. “Our members felt duped about the use of the casino money and it showed in our attendance,” she said. “Now we’re mobilizing for the November election when all of our commission seats are on the ballot.”

Garrett County school rep Sarah Teets was at the Fix the Fund march, too. She and her colleagues carpooled to Cumberland and grabbed a bus for the 300-mile round trip to Annapolis to ask legislators to do the right thing. “I’m working to keep the staff at my school informed and active about our next move.”

Educators are Rising Up

Maryland educators are part of a wave of educator activism that is growing across the nation as teachers and support staff increasingly stand up to shortchanged state budgets.

Speakers included MSEA President Betty Weller; Montgomery County educator Carissa Barnes; aspiring educator Kayla Moore; Dr. Alvin Thornton, architect of the successful Bridge to Excellence Act; and Jill Morris, president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County.

In Oklahoma, the budget’s been cut 28% over 10 years, leaving educators’ salaries and school resources in tatters; in Kentucky, educators are rallying to fight an attack on their pensions; in Arizona, teachers are fighting for funding and a 20% raise; and in West Virginia, educators went on strike until the legislature passed a 5% raise.

“This is a man-made crisis,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who joined Oklahoma teachers in their protests on April 2.

“For a dozen years,” she told the crowd, “we sent emails and letters and phone calls and visits. For years, we’ve explained what was happening as they ignored the needs of public schools. And they ignored us. And now we are taking to the streets.”

Photos © Stephen Cherry and Randall Pike.