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Lawmakers, governor must show commitment to schools

The 2023 Maryland General Assembly session presents exciting and important opportunities, with the leadership and partnership of Gov. Moore, to build on the legislature’s commitment to public schools. That commitment is essential to establish policies to meet this moment. As a Baltimore County teacher and president of the state’s largest educators’ union, I am proud of the work that educators in every job type are doing to support our students, particularly in the face of historic staffing shortages that we see throughout Maryland.

School staff in every job category are essential—whether they teach, drive a bus, maintain technology, support teachers, manage front offices, or focus on students’ physical and mental health. Shortages across these jobs existed before the pandemic and worsened in its wake. Bus routes have been canceled. Teachers have had to manage their larger classes and cover additional classes due to staffing and substitute shortages. Escalating counselor and psychologist caseloads make it harder to reach all students who experience trauma, social-emotional challenges, and other issues that interfere with their academic success. The pipeline to fill these vital these roles is insufficient. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that working conditions and inadequate pay are the two greatest deterrents to attracting and retaining the outstanding educators that students and families need. We will need short- and long-term strategies to retain dedicated educators, attract and remove barriers for new educators, and to diversify our workforce.

The commitment of the legislature, and Gov. Moore, to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is essential to long-term solutions that address these shortages and lift up our educators and the students, schools, and communities that they care so deeply about.

Additional actions can be taken during this session to reinforce this commitment and address these shortages. The critical need for support professionals—bus drivers, clericals, health techs, paraprofessionals, and others—was laid bare in the pandemic. The General Assembly responded by passing legislation in 2022 to give a retention bonus to these vital underpaid employees in the short-term. But, the bonuses were not fully funded in Gov. Hogan’s budget. The General Assembly and governor should approve a deficiency appropriation in the budget to make those employees whole. Amendments to the Blueprint should eliminate inequities across job categories in the career ladder, and target positions that are in highest demand, such as behavioral health professionals.

The Blueprint will raise teacher pay over the next 10 years, but raises are needed sooner to ensure educators are able to stay in their positions. Aspiring educators need paid internships to make their career choice attainable. Finally, when it comes to funding, let’s focus on what works. The BOOST voucher program that takes public dollars from public schools, primarily benefitting private school families, should end.

We also must make sure educators have a voice in working conditions that impact them and that have a direct impact on staffing shortages. Alongside politicized attacks on the profession, larger than manageable class sizes, caseloads, and staffing ratios have reached crisis levels that contribute to the educator shortage. Maryland should make class size a permissible subject of bargaining so educators can discuss how class sizes impact learning and working conditions and collaboratively identify solutions. Such a discussion is currently illegal in Maryland and only a handful of other states.

As workers and unions across the country highlight the need for a meaningful seat at the table through enhanced transparency, and improved fairness, we can take important steps to advance these values. Maryland’s collective bargaining law for public employees is a mishmash that has been created piecemeal over decades. We should merge those laws and the separate labor boards into a single, standardized and modernized framework for public employee collective bargaining.

Addressing staffing shortages and giving educators a voice is important. We also know that our schools must be a place where children from diverse backgrounds and races learn to understand the past and present while preparing for the future. A troubling effort by some politicians promotes book bans and whitewashes history. We must provide every child with an accurate, honest, and inclusive education, without excluding certain students or writing people who represent and look like our diverse student body out of our history books.

And we must ensure accuracy in all curricula that does not marginalize or erase students of different gender identities or sexual orientations. We should not shortchange our students’ education and need to ensure that they can develop critical thinking skills.

We must take steps over the next 90 days to make sure that all of our students and educators have the resources, time and opportunity to succeed. With so many education champions in Annapolis, educators are excited to work together to make progress for our students this session!

Cheryl Bost is president of the Maryland State Education Association.

Eye on Annapolis Summit 2023

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