The 2022 session of the Maryland General Assembly is an opportunity to continue and expand the critical work of ensuring fairness and opportunity for every student in Maryland. We can build on the landmark steps that the legislature took last year of passing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future while also addressing issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic, such as non-academic supports for students and escalating workloads and staffing shortages for educators. We must take action to build a strong road to recovery, equity and greater opportunity for all Marylanders.
As a Baltimore County teacher and president of the state’s largest educators’ union, I am proud of the incredible work that educators across the state, in every job type, have done to support our students, especially during the challenges of the pandemic. We can take straightforward steps during this session to make sure that all of our students and educators have the resources, time, and opportunity to succeed. Here’s how.
Foremost, we must continue the full implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which will be key to success for schools and students for years to come. With any complex legislation adjustments must be made to fulfill the law’s intent and to better position Maryland to meet the challenges of recovering from the pandemic. The Blueprint has sound principles and does not need a rewrite, but would benefit some tweaks, including addressing existing and expanding inequities by better defining “low-performing schools” so that we can create resilient pathways to opportunity for at-promise students, as well as strategic improvements to the career ladder structure will help support current educators and fortify the recruitment of future educators, which are currently at crisis levels.
More Individual Attention for Students
Districts across the state, and the country, are struggling with educator shortages, spurred by larger than manageable class sizes, caseloads and student-to-staff ratios that were present before the pandemic but which have reached crisis levels. Those conditions are driving experienced educators from the profession and deterring prospective educators. Students suffer because they get less opportunity for individualized attention from overworked educators.
Thanks to the traumas and challenges of the pandemic, students need this one-on-one attention more than ever, both for academic and social-emotional support. And while the Blueprint includes hiring thousands of additional educators to transform the profession and schools, we can take action now that will benefit students and educators over the short and long term. By giving educators a voice in class size, which is currently an illegal topic of bargaining, and taking action to reduce caseloads and workloads and more rapidly increase staffing levels, we can better support students and stem the shortages which are afflicting every school district.
The historic shortages in support professional positions—whether bus drivers, nurses or health techs, paraprofessionals, or others—underscores the importance of attracting more individuals to fill these critical education support roles that make a difference for our students. A critical and achievable pathway to doing so is raising the wages and improving the collective bargaining voice of these tireless and often underappreciated essential workers. By doing so, we can ensure that our students receive consistent, adequate support every step of the way during their school day, from safe, healthy schools, to extra attention and support, to well-functioning technology and transportation systems.
Equity and Justice for All
Black and Brown voices must have a voice, and racial justice a place, in our schools. That includes fulfilling the Blueprint’s promise to recruit and retain educators of color and train to address racial bias and inequities. Trauma-informed education practices must occur in schools as we strive for greater social and racial justice outside the classroom in judicial, housing, and economic systems. We know that poorly ventilated buildings, a shortage of technology/broadband access, a shortage of mental and behavioral health services, food insecurity, and job and housing insecurity have disproportionately harmed Black and Brown students and their families for decades if not centuries. Clear steps must be taken to rectify these inequities.
We also know that public funds must stay in public schools. The BOOST voucher program, which diverts dollars to private schools where there is no public accountability, and where discriminatory practices are permitted, must end. As we oppose vouchers, we will also fight to ensure that every school in the state that receives public dollars (public and nonpublic schools alike) cannot impose discriminatory policies on staff, students, or families based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability.
Our schools must be a place where children from different places and races learn to understand the present and past to prepare for the future. A troubling effort by some politicians using false narratives pushes bans and attempts to whitewash history, denying children an honest education that equips them to shape a better future. At this important moment, we must equip our students to develop critical thinking skills.
All children should have the freedom to pursue their dreams, so parents, educators, and community members must work together to equip every school with the resources to deliver quality education that prepares every child for the future, no matter their race, background, or zip code. Educators’ legislative goals are driven by these core values, which will result in a better future for our students and our state.
Cheryl Bost is President of the Maryland State Education Association.
|This article is featured in The Daily Record's Eye on Annapolis Summit magazine that was inserted with the Wednesday, January 12, 2002 issue of The Daily Record.