And other legislative updates in this month’s Up the Street
While attention is appropriately on the dangerous spread of coronavirus and containing it, much legislation awaits next steps after being passed during the General Assembly session that adjourned sine die on March 18. Among the important legislation waiting to become law is the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and revenue bills designed to pay for its early implementation.
April 7 is the deadline for bills that passed to be presented to the governor for his action. Once legislation reaches him, Gov. Hogan has 30 days to decide whether to sign it into law, let it become law without his signature, or to veto it. If he vetoes, three-fifths of both the House and Senate must override his veto for the legislation to become law. The General Assembly has tentatively scheduled a special session at the end of May when they can respond to the governor’s actions, but that date may be pushed back as the state navigates the best health information available. In order for the bill’s implementation date of July 1 to be maintained, the General Assembly would need to override a veto prior to that date. If a special session is called after that date, or is not called at all, the General Assembly could still override, but the effective date and funding mandates would have a delayed implementation.
The first several years of the Blueprint are funded if the bills that passed this year are also enacted by July 1. The state of emergency and response to the coronavirus have had such serious economic impacts since the session adjourned that veto-proof majorities that passed some bills cannot be taken for granted in a veto session. However, it is essential to remember and remind our representatives that the factors that created the need for the Blueprint will be just as relevant when students and teachers are at last in classrooms together again. The future of our state — which may feel economic effects from the coronavirus-induced industry slowdowns for some time — will rely on the best educated workforce in the future.
Two of the five key Blueprint program areas directly affect that future: early childhood education and career and technical education (CTE). To improve the academic careers of children from all socioeconomic backgrounds, starting in 2022–2023, three- and four-year-olds from families with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level (FPL; FPL is $26,200 for a family of four) will be admitted to pre-kindergarten for free. Starting in 2024–2025, three- and four-year-olds living between 300% and 600% of the federal poverty level will be admitted for free, space depending. All other income levels will be admitted on a sliding cost scale, space depending. Starting in school year 2020–2021, high school students will be measured against college and career ready standards by the 10th grade, and schools must develop a system to track readiness toward that goal in the 9th grade. Access to CTE that leads to industry certification and licensure will be expanded to all middle and high school students, to prepare them for well-paying, in-demand jobs that they will be qualified to fill upon graduation.
The Blueprint’s commitment to high quality teachers is no less vital. Educators, who have stepped up more than ever to meet their students’ needs in the current crisis, should know they are valued and supported. The Blueprint is designed to better reward and identify our great teachers. It started with statewide baseline salary increases that began this year and will result in an overall 10% increase by June 30, 2024. By July 1, 2026, all teachers must make a salary of at least $60,000. In 2024 a four-tier career ladder is to be established that entitles educators who achieve certain certifications to advance with predictable salary increases and job expectations. We are closely watching the establishment of this ladder to assure oversight at the state level by the Professional Standards and Teacher Education Board (PSTEB) and to protect local bargaining rights as districts incorporate the ladder. Simultaneously, recruitment, financial support, and retention initiatives will be developed to increase the diversity of the educator workforce to more closely represent the student population. The Blueprint designates funds to identify, encourage, and support the best students to become teachers, to serve in schools that need to improve, to become teacher leaders on the career leader, and to mentor teachers entering the profession. We were successful in eliminating the near-impossible to implement requirement that all teachers become Nationally Board Certified (NBC). NBC teachers will receive a $10,000 salary increase, one of the several distinctions that earns bonuses along the ladder.
The Blueprint’s focus on poverty’s widespread devastation is more crucial than ever, given the current state of emergency. Disruptions in regular school, jobs, and personal lives increase the anxiety about health, food, and poverty that has long impacted and fueled inequities across Maryland. The need is greater than ever for trauma-informed schools, trauma-informed teachers who come from diverse backgrounds, and wraparound services. The new funding formula increases per-pupil amounts for basic education, compensatory and special education, and English language support. New formulas are added to support schools with high concentrations of poverty, adding money for personnel and per pupil support for community schools that deliver those wraparound services. Full implementation will mean hundreds more community schools by 2030, 135 early education Judy Centers by 2030, and 24 family support Patty Centers between 2022 and 2029. Failing to fund these Blueprint programs now only exacerbates the negative outcomes the education system has been experiencing in a decade of underfunding.
The Blueprint is more than ever the right legislation at the right time. For more information on all policy areas outlined in the bill, please review and share this document that dissects key provisions.
Already in a state of emergency, Maryland has been declared a federal disaster area and this week has reported more than 2,758 coronavirus cases and more than 42 deaths from it. The federal declaration enables the state to receive additional support to prevent, respond to, and contain the spread of the virus. For all schools, distance learning is in effect through at least April 24. We know that many questions remain. Distance learning will not replicate a classroom experience for any students and essential technology has still not reached all students. To provide support, MSEA conducted a teletown hall on March 26 to answer many questions from thousands of members. and launched on April 1 the first of new weekly Learn More at 4 Q&A sessions on Facebook Live (Wednesdays at 4 p.m.). We are also publishing and updating answers to frequently asked questions and resources on a wide variety of topics on our website at www.marylandeducators.org/coronavirus.
The State Board of Education concluded that this was no time to conduct a search for a new superintendent. Dr. Karen Salmon, who had planned to retire this year, has agreed to a contract to stay on through the next school year.
The decennial census is under way. Participate. Don’t fail to be counted, and encourage everyone you know to fill it out. You can complete the census online, by phone, or by mail. While residents have until the summer to complete the forms, the goal is to get counted early and minimize the need to have canvassers in neighborhoods during times of social and physical distancing. An accurate census can make a huge difference in funding and accurate elected representation. Educators can also use NEA’s Census Toolkit to learn more and incorporate information on the census with online lesson plans or social media shareables.