submitted by Gail Sunderman

The LWVMD has a long-standing history of support for an equitable, accessible, and fully funded public education system. Recent legislative changes in Maryland, along with the significant needs resulting from and highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, make these priorities a continuing area of focus.

Blueprint for Maryland’s Future: In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly recognized the need to re-evaluate the education funding formula, learn more about inequities within our current educational system, and develop plans to strengthen Maryland’s public education system. Based on recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (the Kirwan Commission), the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (Blueprint) became law in the 2021 state legislative session, overriding Governor Hogan’s veto of the bill passed with bipartisan majorities in the 2020 session.   

The Blueprint is a comprehensive bill that expands access to early childhood education, improves compensation and support for educators, increases a focus on college and career readiness, and adopts a funding formula that better accounts for the current needs of all students, as well as the specialized needs of students experiencing poverty, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. Further, there are accountability measures, including establishing the Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB), designed to ensure transparency and statewide consistency of implementation.

The Blueprint substantially increases State and local funding of public schools. State funding for most existing education formulas is increased and new funding formulas are established for specific purposes, with full funding phased in at varying rates to full implementation by FY 2032. Local governments are also required to increase their local appropriations for education over the 12-year implementation period. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted and intensified many of the inequities in our current system, while also contributing to a delay in the implementation timeline of the Blueprint requirements. In 2021 the General Assembly passed an updated bill to adapt the timeline and address additional needs highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., increased technology funding, implementing summer programs and tutoring to support learning recovery, attention to address trauma and behavioral health needs). The General Assembly also established guidelines for use of federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) funds and passed the Built To Learn Act, creating an avenue for significant additional investments in school facilities, above existing state construction funds. The Built to Learn Act was tied to passage of the Blueprint bill, in part to ensure the facilities necessary for the Blueprint’s recommended expansion of career and technical training, as well as early childhood education. In 2022, the General Assembly made technical changes to the Blueprint to clarify provisions, adjust the implementation timeline, and require local districts to appropriate additional operating funds (HB1450/CH0033). 

LWVMD is a member of the Coalition for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (Coalition), which is monitoring implementation of the Blueprint. The Coalition is particularly focused on full state funding of the Blueprint and transparency in Blueprint implementation and reporting. In 2022, the Coalition along with others, pushed back against the draft Comprehensive Implementation Plan released by the AIB. The deficiencies in the plan were compounded by the lack of regulatory guidance from MSDE and the complexity of the details that challenge the capacity of MSDE. The AIB extended the deadline for local districts to submit implementation plans for approval to March 2024, further delaying implementation. There is also concern that a number of jurisdictions, primarily those serving low-income and minority students, will face significant fiscal stress in meeting the Blueprint funding requirements.

School discipline reform: LWVMD joined the Coalition to Reform School Discipline (CRSD) in December 2022. The aim of CRSD is to make school discipline practices in Maryland schools fair, appropriate, equitable, and designed to keep youth in school and on track to graduate. In 2022, the General Assembly passed two bills that decriminalize school discipline by altering the definition of “reportable offense” to include only offenses that occurred off school premises and another limiting the use of seclusion and physical restraint as a behavioral health intervention under certain circumstances. In November 2022, CRSD successfully lobbied the AIB to incorporate an expanded focus on restorative approaches in the final Comprehensive Implementation Plan. 

School staffing shortages: Shortages of both teachers and non instructional staff persist in Maryland. The Department of Legislative Services (DLS) reports (p. 59) several reasons for the decline, including decreased enrollment in teacher preparation programs, as well as recruitment, retention and retirement as reasons for teacher shortages, and low wages and high turnover for non instructional staff. The Blueprint includes provisions that aim to address the teacher shortage, including a minimum base salary of $60,000 by July 1, 2026 and additional support for teacher preparation, recruitment, and retention. Other efforts, such as focus on working conditions, may be necessary in order to expand school staffing.

Early education and preschool: The Blueprint expands voluntary full-day pre-kindergarten for income-eligible 3- and 4-years-olds. To address capacity constraints, private providers are expected to meet 50% of the demand for additional slots by the 2025-26 school year. The pandemic greatly contracted the number of private providers in Maryland. However, while other economic sectors recovered jobs lost during the pandemic, the child care industry continued to operate well below pre-pandemic workforce levels.

Priorities for the 2023 session include:

  • Adequate and equitable funding of the Blueprint. Funding sources have been identified only through FY2028. Support for dedicating available funding surpluses (there is a $5.5 billion budget surplus) and generating future revenue growth for long-term Blueprint funding. Monitor the fiscal impact of the Blueprint implementation on local jurisdictions and make adjustments to offset any negative impact on local fiscal capacity.
  • Monitor implementation of the Blueprint. Individual districts have begun developing local Blueprint implementation plans. However, the ability of the AIB and MSDE to provide adequate oversight are ongoing concerns. Advocate for transparency in Blueprint implementation and reporting to address these issues. 
  • Monitor legislation focused on addressing school discipline and behavioral health needs. Support for shifts away from the use of punitive discipline and developmentally/ethnically inappropriate practices to those promoting trauma-informed practices, implementing restorative approaches to discipline, and tracking disciplinary data to identify and/or address disparities.
  • Address the educator shortage: Support for policies that make teaching an attractive profession, with salaries comparable to other professions, and improve teacher working conditions.
  • Support for early education and preschool: Support efforts to expand access to early education and preschool and address capacity issues. 
  • Support for behavioral and mental health professionals. Monitor legislation that supports additional funding for adequate staffing to meet student behavioral and mental health needs in schools and provide wraparound supports for students, such as Community Schools. 
  • Privatization, vouchers and school choice. Oppose efforts to divert public funding away from public schools. 
  • Resource equity. Support equitable access to digital technology and school facilities.