We Marched, They Voted

And other legislative updates in MSEA’s Up the Street

Photo © Randall Pike


We Marched, They Voted

On Monday night, more than a thousand educators, parents, students, and advocates from every county in Maryland travelled to Annapolis to rally for the Fix the Fund Act (SB1122) — a constitutional amendment to ensure casino gaming revenue increases education funding by $500 million a year — and urge the General Assembly to pass a new school funding formula in 2019. Lawyers Mall in front of the State House became a sea of red, with attendees clanging bells and waving signs before forming a line to march around (and completely fill) State Circle.

And it inspired immediate action. Not more than an hour after the march ended, the Senate voted unanimously (47–0) to approve the Fix the Fund Act. It now goes to the House of Delegates, where the bill is expected to be taken up starting next week. If approved by three-fifths of the House, the constitutional amendment will then go on the ballot in November, where it will need majority approval from the voters to take effect. As voted on by the Senate, the amendment would add $125 million on top of the mandated school funding formula in FY2020, $250 million in FY2021, $375 million in FY2022, and $500 million in FY2023 and moving forward.

The message of the rally and march was carried to far more people than the public education advocates in attendance. The Facebook Live feed has been viewed by more than 20,000 people. The event drew eight television cameras representing every station in the Baltimore and DC markets. You can see some of the coverage on WTOP, NBC4, WJLA, and WMAR.

A huge thank you to everyone who came, and an especially big thank you to those who made phone calls, sent text messages, held building visits, and logged data to help our recruitment efforts.

School Shooting Nightmare in St. Mary’s

While Monday night ended with legislative success, Tuesday morning brought heartbreaking tragedy. The national nightmare of school shootings came to our state at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County. The shooter — a student at the school — and one of his victims are dead. One other student is injured. The shooting was fortunately brought to a swift end by the heroic actions of a school resource officer, who was uninjured.

The Education Association of St. Mary’s County (EASMC), MSEA, and NEA released statements calling for the end of gun violence, hoping for a full recovery of the injured student, and pledging support for the Great Mills staff and community. EASMC President Jill Morris has reached out to all members of the school to check in and offer support. The community is shaken, but is joining together to support each other and begin the process of healing.

While a bipartisan group of senators were already working on ways to strengthen school safety after the recent horrific shooting in Florida, Tuesday’s event quickened the pace and spurred hearings in front of Senate committees on four new proposals:

· SB1262: Would create a workgroup to study improvements to firearm background checks and create a school crisis welfare officer in each district

· SB1263: Would strengthen criminal penalties for acts of violence in schools; create school district threat assessment teams; and increase mental health services in schools

· SB1264: Would require every school to have at least one armed school resource officer

· SB1265: Would provide $10 million to update school building security protections and require active threat drills

MSEA is working to support the effort to address school safety concerns without spending huge amounts of scarce resources on militarizing our schools. Instead of putting armed police in every school, we have instead urged the legislature to finally staff mental health services at adequate levels by meeting national staffing standards for school counselors (250 students per counselor), social workers (250 student per social worker), and psychologists (500–700 students per psychologist).


Budgets on the Move

As snow shut down schools this week, a flurry of budget activity moved along in the General Assembly:

· The House of the Delegates passed their version of the FY2019 operating budget 125–12. A key note here is that the House reduced the governor’s funding for the BOOST private school voucher program from $8.85 million to $5 million. A companion measure to set aside $200 million for implementing future Kirwan Commission recommendations drew a more partisan vote, but was approved 94–42. The budget conference to settle differences between the House and Senate will begin informally today.

· The Senate passed the capital budget, including $355 million for school construction and $10 million for school safety upgrades.

· Gov. Hogan introduced a $2.6 million supplemental budget this week to fund audits of local school systems — including $1.5 million for Prince George’s County — as the General Assembly declined to move his legislation to create a political inspector general to publicly shame public schools. Maryland Matters reports that the supplemental budget is really a political attack on two Democratic candidates for governor.

Teachers on the State School Board

Today, the Senate approved an amended version of a bill (SB 739) — with a strong bipartisan vote of 37–10 — that MSEA has been pushing for a few years now to add dedicated seats on the State Board of Education for certificated teachers. The bill was amended in committee for those teachers to be appointed by the governor from a list of teachers provided by MSEA and the Baltimore Teachers Union. The bill also adds one dedicated seat for a parent of a public school student selected by the Maryland PTA. This bill now moves to the House of Delegates after the crossover deadline. Its future is uncertain, but this action in the Senate sends a strong message about the importance of empowering teacher voice and how we can further lead the profession.


Madaleno Endorsed by Former Attorney General Doug Gansler

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler became the first 2014 gubernatorial candidate to weigh in on the 2018 Democratic primary when he endorsed fellow Montgomery County resident Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery-District 18). Madaleno has now unveiled several important endorsements in the last few weeks, including Congressman Jamie Raskin, as he works to develop a base in his home county.

Kamala Harris Endorses Ben Jealous

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) endorsed former NAACP President Ben Jealous for governor this week. A rumored Presidential candidate in 2020, she joins other White House hopefuls who endorsed Jealous this year, including U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and Los Angeles Mayor Eric M. Garcetti.

Vignarajah Releases First Ad

Krish Vignarajah released a new online ad this week, stressing the need for more women and mothers in political higher office. The ad shows Vignarajah breastfeeding her infant daughter, a strategic move to highlight the fact that she is the only woman — out of eight major candidates — running for governor.