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Veto override, more steps needed to improve education

PrintRemediating learning loss. Supporting struggling learners. Making sure that we have safe and healthy school buildings. Delivering the social-emotional, career and technology and wraparound support services that students need. As we transition to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, veto overrides to enact the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and other important legislation that supports education and equity must be a priority when the General Assembly convenes. Overriding the governor’s vetoes aren’t just important for our schools — doing so will also help address the historic racial, social and economic inequities the pandemic made larger.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future that the governor vetoed contains programs that unfold and expand, over a decade, to address longstanding inequities that disproportionately affect students living in areas of concentrated poverty. It also addresses racial and social justice issues in society at large that have become the universal priority they should always have been. The pandemic has laid bare the desperate need to create strong schools in every neighborhood by providing additional support to struggling learners, hiring more educators and increasing their pay, expanding access to career and technical education and delivering a more prosperous future for Maryland.

The Blueprint is a ready response to the pandemic and education needs, it is strongly supported and it is critical to doing the work on equity and school facility improvements tied to it. The Blueprint passed with a bipartisan majority in both the House (96-38) and Senate (37-9), and public support for it has been consistently strong. The Blueprint sets the stage for long-term improvement in education and the economy statewide.

It’s past time to change the facts that schools with high concentrations of poverty lack adequate resources and equitable access to career and technology courses; that some students lack the social-emotional health support and care to manage the traumatic effects of the pandemic and other adverse childhood experiences; that half of teachers work two jobs, and about half — before the pandemic — were leaving their profession after two years.

The Blueprint delineates, with accountability, how to establish universal pre-K; create community schools that engage and nurture struggling families, and provide wraparound social services and health care that students, families, and communities need; give struggling students more academic support; better recruit, train, retain, and support educators; better engage students by providing access to a variety of career paths; and demonstrate that education is a highly regarded and worthwhile career.

Overriding the governor’s veto of the Blueprint will revive the Built to Learn Act, a $2.2 billion investment in school construction for badly needed new and replacement schools that the Blueprint veto also stalled. Facilities continue to be overcrowded, inadequately ventilated and without safe potable water. Overriding the Blueprint veto means repairs can begin on crumbling and unhealthy schools and desperately needed local jobs and economic opportunities can be generated through new capital projects.

Essential to the Blueprint’s success are the progressive revenue streams to fund its programs, several of which were also vetoed, including HB732, the Tobacco, Sales and Use Tax and Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax, and HB932, the 21st Century Economy Fairness Act. Together, these progressive tax bills were estimated to generate as much as a quarter-billion dollars in their first year.

We know that enrollment will experience a one-time drop this year due to the pandemic and will bounce back next year. This temporary drop could lead to catastrophic cuts to school funding that will only make the recovery for our schools and students harder. We must not dig an even deeper hole for ourselves to climb out of; action should be taken in the governor’s budget to hold school systems harmless in FY22.

Equity is a bedrock value for Maryland’s educators. The Blueprint transforms and fundamentally improves the foundation of our work towards greater equity. But it isn’t the end point.

Among other policies, we will work to close the digital divide by making broadband internet access a public utility available to every community; amplify and affirm Black and Brown voices and demand racial and social justice in our schools, including the recruitment and retention of educators of color, the development of teacher preparation programs that include implicit bias, diversity, equity, and cultural competency training, and the use of trauma-informed education practices; the transformation of school security policies to focus on providing social-emotional and mental health support rather than on law enforcement; and justice and equity for Black and Brown lives beyond the classroom, including in our judicial, housing, health, and economic systems.

MSEA strongly advocates for the settlement with the state’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as was achieved last session in HB1260 but was vetoed. This issue must be resolved so we can finally realize the fairness, equitable funding, and justice, historically denied to these institutions.

The pandemic has highlighted the tireless and often underappreciated work of essential workers—whether it’s the 24,000 education support professionals in Maryland schools who do not make a living wage or the thousands of essential workers and Marylanders whom we depend on but who struggle to make ends meet. We need to do more to ensure that a living wage and a secure future are achievable for all families.

We have been paying the price for underfunding education. Now more than ever is the time to make it right. Our children can’t wait any longer for this investment.

This article is featured in The Daily Record's Eye on Annapolis Summit.

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