Why This Year Matters So Much for Our Schools

We can win a billion dollars in new school funding, a 3% raise, and more during this legislative session

With the news right before the holidays that legislative leaders were delaying the debate on updating the state’s school funding formula, it’s easy to understand why a lot of educators and public education supporters were frustrated.

But the delay in finalizing the formula should not be seen as a complete delay in making major progress on school funding and erasing the $2.9 billion annual underfunding of our schools.

In fact, we can— and must — make critical progress over the next few months. If we’re successful, we can add a billion dollars in new school funding, secure significant raises for educators, meaningfully expand programs we know make a difference for students, and make it clear to legislators that we refuse to allow the status quo of our schools being perpetually underfunded.

We know that our kids can’t wait for more funding. If we’re silent, legislators will think that more delays are okay and the status quo is acceptable for our kids. The status quo is not good enough, and so our silence simply is not an option.

Here’s what we can win during this legislative session:

What We Can Do This Year: A 3% Raise and More

The Kirwan Commission — the group of 25 legislators and advocates charged with developing a plan to address the underfunding of Maryland schools — projects that the state should phase in $3.8 billion in new funding over 10 years. Remember the $2.9 billion in annual underfunding? This new funding would erase that and then some.

The new funding wouldn’t happen all in one year, but phase in and increase over 10 years. We have to make sure that legislators keep ramping up that funding so we can stay on track to close the funding gap. This ramping up can begin— and continue — before the formula is finalized.

Here’s how we can ramp up funding now: last year, the 2018 General Assembly set aside $200 million that the 2019 General Assembly is meant to use to increase funding for our schools and start to close the funding gap. The Kirwan Commission made specific recommendations to legislators about how to spend that $200 million, including:

Legislators are talking about potentially augmenting this $200 million funding increase by $125 million made up of new money that is flowing to our schools from casino revenues thanks to the overwhelming passage of Question 1 (Fix the Fund) during the 2018 election.

Beyond this package, the bill to set a living wage standard for all support staff will be re-introduced this year, and MSEA and educators will continue to fight hard for it to pass. Ramping up funding for our schools can help fund those living wages.

We Can Also Make Progress for Next Year

This isn’t the only progress we can make during this session. The General Assembly can and should make commitments to fund even more increases in school funding in next year’s budget to further reduce the level of underfunding.

To stay on track to reach the goal of $3.8 billion in 10 years, the 2019 General Assembly will need to commit to increase school funding by $750 million during the 2020 legislative session.

That 2020 legislative session is when the long-awaited overhaul of the school funding formula is scheduled to happen. But the only way to ensure that this new formula kicks in immediately — and starts making a difference in our schools and classrooms immediately — is for legislators this year to commit to increasing funding again next year. Otherwise, the 2020 General Assembly couldn’t mandate increased funding until the following year, pushing implementation off track and delaying getting the needed funding to our students.

That’s why this year is so important —a new formula without the funding to implement it would be like a great new car with an empty gas tank. We can’t let that happen. It’s critical that we get funding commitments for next year and keep the momentum up to end the funding crisis.

No More Delays

It’s simple: our kids can’t wait. Every year, the challenges in our schools get bigger and the funding gap gets worse. We need to send a strong message to legislators that our students need more support and we will not let up until they receive it.

So what’s at stake? Up to a billion dollars in new funding for education. Significant raises. Progress on expanding programs that we know make a difference for our students. Making it clear to legislators that we refuse to allow our schools to be perpetually underfunded.

What Are We Going to Do About It?

On March 11, MSEA is organizing a thousands-strong group of education advocates to come to Annapolis at 6 p.m. to March for Our Schools. We must continue to keep the pressure up throughout this legislative session and beyond until elected officials take comprehensive action to end the underfunding of our schools.

If you’re upset about the status quo, and if you think more funding, more time, more respect and autonomy for our profession, and more support for our kids will make a difference, then we need you to click here to get on a bus with us and come to Annapolis for the March for Our Schools.