From the passage of a statewide Fair Share organizing bill
to record levels of investment in our schools, Maryland’s students, educators,
and our association all had significant victories this year.
MSEA started the 2013 General Assembly session with a clear set of legislative priorities, and while we did not win on every issue, we had a lot of success:
Passing a Statewide Fair Share Representation Fee for School Employees
When the General Assembly passed HB 667 over the weekend and SB 422 on the final day of the session, the state of Maryland took an affirmative stand in support of fairness and with educators by passing a statewide Fair Share bill.
This legislation creates a new mandatory subject of bargaining between school boards and exclusive bargaining units to reach resolution on if representation fees should be charged to non-members. As amended, any new contract that includes representation fees that impact current non-members must allow those non-members the right to vote on the contract ratification. The legislation does nothing to impact existing Fair Share agreements where they have already been negotiated.
Investing In Our Schools, Students, and Educators
The General Assembly adopted a $37 billion budget (HB 100) for FY14 that includes $6 billion for public education. This record level of state aid for education is nearly a 2 percent increase over FY13 levels and maintains the state’s funding commitment to the #1 public schools in the country.
The overall increase includes a 1 percent increase in the Foundation Funding Formula, additional dollars based on a new calculation of net taxable income, and some Disparity Grant offsets to minimize enrollment and wealth calculation changes for some jurisdictions.
The Capital Budget includes $300 million for school construction. Of that, $25 million is dedicated for school safety improvements and another $25 million is reserved for air conditioning improvements in school buildings across the state.
Sadly, Governor O’Malley led efforts to increase state aid for nonpublic school programs. The final budget includes $6 million in FY14 for the nonpublic school textbook and technology program. In addition, the conference committee report on the capital budget included $3.5 million for the Interagency Committee on School Construction to disperse to nonpublic schools. These efforts are disappointing considering there are so many unmet needs that remain in our public schools.
Supporting Pro-Student Initiatives that Aid Achievement In and Out of the Classroom
MSEA was a leading voice in the Share Our Strength coalition that helped to advance the Maryland Meals for Achievement program and successfully lobby for an additional $1.8 million to expand the program to 50,000 additional students.
Rejecting Vouchers and Neo-Vouchers, like the BOAST Bill
While Governor O’Malley’s increased investment in nonpublic school textbooks, technology, and infrastructure is disappointing, there was very little discussion of voucher programs this year. In fact, the BOAST bill was not even introduced. And the voucher bill that was introduced (HB 1033) had a hearing and then was never discussed again.
Protecting Maryland’s Charter School Law
While several bills were introduced that would have threatened significant change to Maryland’s strong charter school law, they were all defeated. What passed, Senate Bill 194, creates a two-year study of the law and a complete review of what is working and not working in the state’s charter schools. The study is to be conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education with an interim report scheduled for December 2013 and a final report slated for December 2014. The scope of the study is a “real” review of how the program is working, examining topics largely submitted by MSEA and AFT, and requires MSDE to document outreach to and input from interested stakeholders into the report.
Strengthening Retirement Security
House Bill 496 and Senate Bill 474 were identical bills that both passed as part of the General Assembly’s long-term commitment to fully funding the state pension system. This legislation begins a 10-year phase-out of the “corridor funding method” that has been responsible for artificially reducing the amount of state dollars that should have been going in to the pension system for the last dozen years. The plan to get out of the corridor is hugely significant to ensure that the state is meeting its funding obligation and provides a big win for all employees in the state retirement system.
Continuing the Success and Importance of the Public School Labor Relations Board
This is an area where we fell short. House Bill 475 was a Department bill advanced by the Public School Labor Relations Board to codify many of their existing practices. While the House of Delegates overwhelmingly supported the bill, it did not get a vote in the Senate before Sine Die. Failing to pass the bill does not stunt the work of the Board. Hopefully, the dialogue in 2013 will allow for a comprehensive review of the Labor Board next year and a repeal of the Board’s 2015 sunset provision.
Legislative Victories – Bills MSEA Helped Pass
Firearm Safety Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 281)
This landmark legislation creates some of the strictest gun safety laws in the country and creates new investments in school safety and mental health services. MSEA was a leading member of the Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence coalition and served as a strong voice to make sure this legislation focused on school safety items and not just elements of the bill dealing with background checks, fingerprinting, and licensing of firearms. This comprehensive bill includes commonsense measures that take a significant step to keeping our schools and children safe.
Updated Calculation of Net Taxable Income (HB 229)
By legislation and in the budget, the General Assembly adopted a new calculation of net taxable income that drives some education formula funding. The budget includes $8 million to begin a five year phase-in to correct this wealth calculation. The fix of net taxable income will ensure that less wealthy counties receive their fair share of education aid, while wealthier counties are held harmless in the re-calculation of wealth. The net impact is an overall increase in state aid in the Thornton education formula.
Commission on Special Education (HB 1161)
This legislation establishes a commission to study access and equity for special education students. The study will review disparities and potential methods for eliminating any disparities based on race, national origin, and limited English proficiency (LEP) as it relates to areas of special education. Also, the commission must study the effects of workload, caseload, and paperwork requirements related to the special education process on the ability of educators to provide a free and appropriate public education, and potential methods for mitigating these factors. Finally, the commission will study concerns about equity in special education due process hearings and potential methods for improving the process, the State and local costs of all proposals considered or recommended by the commission, and any other issues related to access and equity in the provision of special education services. MSEA will recommend an appointee to the commission.
Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2013 (HB 1515)
Another bill MSEA supported as part of a coalition, this comprehensive transportation plan helps to create jobs and address a critical quality of life priority for Marylanders across the state. Additionally, the new and dedicated tax revenue projected in the bill enables the state to invest in this economic imperative without threatening other budget priorities, like investments in education.
Commission on the Establishment of a Maryland Educators Service Memorial (SB 857/HB 1131)
The Commission on the Establishment of a Maryland Educators Service Memorial will consider the development and placement of a memorial to honor educators in Maryland.
Memorial Scholarship Program (HB 963)
This scholarship program supports any child or surviving spouse of a public school employee who died in the line of duty or is 100% disabled due to an injury sustained in the line of duty. This bill came about due to PGCEA member Bill Moulden’s letter to the US Department. of Education after the Sandy Hook tragedy. His letter requested legislation that would provide a benefit to educators who die in the line of duty. This bill will allow the State to recognize the sacrifice and value of those who care for Maryland students if they were to face horrific violence in our schools.
Criminal History Records Checks - Student Teachers (HB 1408)
This legislation extends the life of a criminal background check and fingerprinting for student teachers to one year and requires reciprocity between Maryland counties. This will alleviate some of the financial burden placed on Maryland’s student teachers while still maintaining a timely check of records.
Other Key Bills Passed
- Education – Truant Students (HB 207)
- Education – Maryland Center for School Safety (HB 453)
- Sunset Repeal for Certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (SB 926)
- Requirements for Controlled Access (HB 269)
Legislative Victories – Bills MSEA Helped Defeat
Arming Educators – Carrying Weapons on School Grounds
In a session with a focus on school safety, the General Assembly also resisted efforts to arm educators with firearms and tasers, as proposed in HB 436/SB 533 and HB 397. Schools are designed to be safe havens for students and employees and adding weapons to those schools does little to make them safer from violence.
Changes to Burden of Proof for IEPs (SB 691/HB 1286)
Both the Senate and House sponsors of legislation withdrew their bills that would shift the burden of proving that an IEP is adequate to the local school system.
Additional Pension Reforms
Every session brings the recycling of failed ideas. That was true for proposed pension reforms in 2013. Legislation to study allowing counties to elect alternate pension options for teachers (HB 1414) failed. This legislation was proposed by MACo.
Virtual Learning Graduation Requirement (HB 532/SB 537)
As initially introduced, this legislation would have made it a graduation requirement for all high school students to take at least one online course prior to graduating. MSEA opposed the graduation requirement and supported amendments to expand the tasks of the virtual learning council to include a review of such a requirement. Both bills received an unfavorable report.
Other Key Bills Defeated
- Maryland Charter School Advisory Council – Establishment (HB 1200)
- Mathematics Graduation Requirement (HB 1376/SB 734)
- Physical Education Graduation Requirement – Student Health and Fitness Act (HB 855)
- Reasonable School Discipline Act of 2013 (HB 1058)
- Public Schools – Parent Empowerment (HB 875)
Other Legislative Notes
College Readiness and Completion Act of 2013
On the final day of session, the General Assembly enacted the SB 740, a very ambitious bill that significantly reforms the junior and senior year of high school by mandating a new program of instruction and student assessment for college readiness. MSEA supported this legislation with amendments, and while some of the amendments were approved, the timeline on the bill is still of great concern for the unintended consequences of placing so much faith on the development and implementation of PARCC assessments matched to the new Common Core State Standards.
The intent of this legislation is to improve college readiness skills in reading, writing, and math and place greater emphasis on completion rates for colleges. MSEA will be following the study and all regulations related to the implementation of this very significant piece of legislation.
Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013 (HB 1499)
Legislation that overhauls many aspects of the campaign finance laws in Maryland that will not kick in until the 2018 election cycle were adopted in HB 1499. But this legislation includes some changes that take effect immediately, including a change in the filing deadline for candidates seeking office in 2014. The new filing deadline is the last Tuesday in February. For 2014, this is February 25, 2014.