The segments below provide a brief overview of MACo’s work in the area of education policy in the 2023 General Assembly.
Counties support education as the largest component of their budgets, with operating and capital support for schools typically representing a larger share of a county budget than all other functions combined. Statutory formulas drive most state-level funding, which requires constant attention to the state-county balance in funding responsibilities. The burden of costly mandates can fall on county budgets unless state resources are provided. MACo typically advocates for fair and accountable school funding and opposes unfunded new requirements.
In addition to the swearing-in of a new governor, the 445th legislative session kicked off with more relaxed health and safety measures compared to the turbulence of the last few years. This enabled MACo’s policy team to dynamically engage with private-sector stakeholders, legislators, and representatives from all divisions of government. Under these more conventional circumstances, MACo’s advocacy led to a plethora of favorable outcomes for its members.
Child Care and Early Childhood Learning
MACo supported SB 873/HB 868 – Child Care Provider Stabilization Program – Established, which would have established the Child Care Provider Stabilization Program to supply additional financial support to licensed child care providers across the State. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported SB 881 – Child Care Providers and Employees – Bonuses – Alterations. The bill would have increased financial support in the form of certain bonuses for currently licensed child care providers in Maryland, and in doing so, also seeks to incentivize the establishment of new providers. SB 881’s additional $6 million annual appropriation for the State Department of Education would have further enabled local governments to take direct action to carry out the bill’s intent while not incurring any undue financial burden. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 881 – Early Learning Collaboratives – Established and Tax Credit for Contributions to authorize public and private providers of prekindergarten to form early learning collaboratives as part of a publicly funded prekindergarten program. The bill would have also allowed those collaboratives to receive the same state funding available to independent providers. Counties welcomed this innovative tool to meet the prekindergarten expansion goals of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 770/SB 913 – Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – Publicly Funded Prekindergarten, Maryland Consortium on Coordinated Community Supports, and Career Ladder – Alterations with amendments. The bill was requested by the Blueprint Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB) to expand Tier 1 publicly funded Pre-K to include homeless students, as required by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. As drafted, the bill expanded Tier 1 eligibility to several categories of children, however, this was not the intention of the AIB. The bill was amended, in-line with MACo’s request, to only apply to three and four year olds experiencing homelessness and to primarily require the State to cover and costs related to doing so.
Additionally, the bill was amended to clarify the roles and in-classroom duties of assistant principals (which was proposed in a separate bill that ultimately did not pass). Ultimately, the bill passed with amendments alleviating MACo’s concerns and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Community Colleges, Vocational Training, and Career Opportunities
MACo supported HB 390/SB 359 – Community College Tuition and Residency Waivers – Funding that would have appropriated state funding for a series of mandated tuition waivers and in-state tuition for college students, including at community colleges. In essence, the bill would have funded a currently unfunded mandate. Like the 2022 session, the bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House, ultimately not passing in the 2023 session.
MACo supported SB 121/HB 1247 – More Opportunities for Career–Focused Students Act of 2023. The bill intended to require county boards of education to classify qualifying certifications or apprenticeships as the equivalent of pursuing post-secondary education. In doing so, it would have elevated alternative career paths for which there is acute demand in the current labor market. The bill would have also required schools to pay the exam fees for trade skills and apprenticeship certifications, provided they already do so for college preparatory courses and to help connect students with vocational apprenticeship and career opportunities, like they do for colleges and universities. The bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House and did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported SB 918 – Higher Education – Community College Facilities Renewal Grant Program – Alterations. The bill would have doubled the amount of capital project grant funding available for Maryland’s community colleges from $8 million to $16 million. At present, the Community College Construction Program distributes existing funds in the form of $1 million grants to individual community colleges across the state, with eight community colleges receiving grants one year and the other eight the next year. SB 918 would have allowed all 16 community colleges to apply for and receive funding each year instead of taking turns. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported SB 879 – Job Help for All, which would have clarified details about one of the primary goals of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future: career readiness and counseling. SB 879 detailed cost share expectations for Blueprint funds dedicated to providing students with career counseling services. It also clarified that partnerships to do so should form between local boards of education, local workforce development boards, and community colleges. Additionally, it specified that local workforce development boards should receive these and manage these funds and implement these programs, as the best equipped entities to do so. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported SB 551/HB 546 – Department of Service and Civic Innovation and Maryland Corps Program Service Year Option Pathways – Established (Serving Every Region Through Vocational Exploration Act of 2023)with amendments. The bill establishes a new State Department of Service and Civic Innovation and the Service Year Option Program to fund the Department and its operations. Counties welcomed the legislation’s intent to strengthen the pipeline of talent into government across the board, and asked for the General Assembly to expand the focus of SB 511 to include not just placement in the areas of climate, education, and health, but also other areas of facing persistent recruitment and retention challenges at the local and state level. Ultimately, the bill passed with language to strengthen the local government service pipeline to “fill present and future staffing needs.” The bill is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
School Funding and Special Programs
MACo supported SB 201/HB 82 – Maryland Medical Assistance and Children’s Health Insurance Programs – School-Based Behavioral Health Services – Reimbursement. The bill would have required the Maryland Department of Health to apply to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a State plan amendment authorizing reimbursement of behavioral health services provided in schools for students on these insurance plans.
The expanded opportunity for reimbursement would have benefited Maryland schools in a number of ways, from increasing funds available to the school programs that provide mental and behavioral health services for students, to relieving some of the pressures faced by our already overextended school staff. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 488/SB 482 – Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program – Mental Health Professionals in Public Schools to expand the purpose of the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program to include assisting in the repayment of loans for mental health professionals serving as school psychologists, resource psychologists, psychologist coordinators, social workers, social worker supervisors, or mental health coordinators in public schools. While the bill itself did not pass, it was amended into another bill (HB 1219/SB 893) that did pass and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
MACo supported HB 628/SB 557 – Primary and Secondary Education – Breakfast and Lunch Programs – Universal Expansion. The bill would have altered the standards of the State Free Feeding Program to require schools participating in federal aid programs to provide qualifying students free meals to serve free meals to all students, regardless of the student’s socioeconomic status. The bill also would have appropriated state funds to support these additional costs. In doing so, HB 628 will help level the playing field, eliminating the social stigma attendant to relying on free meals in school lunchrooms across the State. While this specific bill did not pass, a similar bill (HB 514/SB 559) did pass, achieving the majority of HB 628/SB 557’s goals.
MACo supported HB 514/SB 559 – Education – Maryland Meals for Achievement In-Classroom Breakfast Program – Annual Appropriation to increase the annual State appropriation required for the Maryland Meals for Achievement In-Classroom Breakfast Program from $7.5 million to over $12 million, providing much-needed support from the State to supplement federal aid used to supply students in need with free breakfast. The bill passed the 2023 session and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
MACo supported SB 810 – Maryland Priority Out–of–School Time Program – Alterations. The bill would have transferred the Public School Opportunities Enhancement Program from the Department of Education to the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services, and changes its name to the Maryland Priority Out-of-School Time Program. More importantly, the bill would have also significantly increased the State’s annual appropriation to the Program from $3 million to $8.5 million. The additional funds would have enabled counties to offer a greater number of out-of-school recreational programs and would have ensured the benefits of these programs reach a greater number of students. Ultimately, the bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported SB 938 – Primary and Secondary Education – School Safety and Student Well–Being – Examination of Policies to increase the amount of annual funding distributed to schools for the purpose of further developing their safety and student wellness services, such as dispute prevention and remediation and School Resource Officers. In doing so, SB 938 would have helped local school systems in their efforts to provide students with a safer educational environment, one more conducive to learning and academic achievement. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 883/SB 791 – Primary and Secondary Education – Public School Employees – Job Duties and Salaries with amendments. The bill would have expanded minimum salary and bonus requirements for teachers under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future to other school staff not negotiated in the law. While counties remain eager to provide all school staff with support that reflects their value to the State, and are actively working to raise the pay of teachers under the Blueprint framework, the requirements of HB 883 would have imposed a burdensome, unfunded mandate on school systems. Accordingly, MACo pursued a simple amendment instructing the State to appropriate adequate funds to pay for the increases in base salary and merit bonuses prescribed by HB 883 / SB 791. While the major objectives of MACo’s amendments were incorporated into the bill, it still needed significant work and, ultimately, the bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 1054/SB 573 – School Health and Vision Services – Screenings and Eye Examinations with amendments. The bill would have brought together the primary contact employees for school-based health centers in both the State Department of Education and Department of Health to administer the Vision for Maryland Program in local jurisdictions. It also would have established a more robust network of school health centers across the State and required public school systems to give students who fail screenings full vision exams and glasses if prescribed. Counties supported the worthy goals of the bill, but urged legislators to adopt amendments to study the long-term viability and expenses of a statewide program, and clarify that the Vision for Maryland Program will support the operation and fiscal needs of existing vision screening requirements in public schools. While the major objectives of MACo’s amendments were incorporated into the bill, it still needed significant work and, ultimately, the bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 1211 – Education – Compensatory Education – Maryland Neighborhood Tier System Calculation with amendments. The bill would have established a detailed tier system to better account for children’s economic conditions when determining their eligibility for compensatory education funding. Counties supported the legislation, and appreciated the extant difficulties in calculating compensatory education, as identified in the Kirwan Commission Report as well as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. However, to address the significant increase in expenditures under this HB 1211’s altered formula, MACo proposed an amendment requiring the State to fund the additional students and schools newly eligible for compensatory aid. Ultimately, the bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 1091 – Education – Screening Requirements for Students With Reading Difficulties – Alterations with amendments. The bill sought to stipulate that public schools must screen all transfer students — in addition to all students for whom English is not a first language — for reading difficulties. The bill further mandated that if the screening results suggest that the student will have difficulty with reading at their grade level, schools would have to provide these students with supplemental instruction. Under current practice, eligibility for these screenings is much more limited in scope. To account for the potentially meaningful fiscal impact attendant to expanding eligibility for specialized reading instruction, counties requested an amendment tying the associated costs to State funds. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 294/SB 926 – County Boards of Education – Due Process Proceedings for Children With Disabilities – Burden of Proof with amendments. The bill would have shifted the burden of proof from plaintiffs to a county board of education in due process proceedings that initiate from a complaint regarding the provision of special education services. Counties acknowledge the challenges posed by the current system for dealing with these complaints, and appreciate that both families and school boards could benefit from its modernization. However, Maryland’s children would be best served if this daunting task were first considered by a task force of experts and relevant stakeholders charged with studying best practices and drafting recommendations. As such, MACo sought amendments to turn the bill into a study to fully consider the issue and best practices to address it. Ultimately, the bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 1196 – Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Implementation – Funding and Independent Evaluation – Alterations with amendments. MACo supported the bill as introduced. It would have provided state grants of $150,000 to each of the 24 local education agencies (LEAs) for FYs 25-26 to cover the hiring and salaries of Local Blueprint Coordinators. The Blueprint requires that all school districts hire a professional Blueprint Coordinator to guide the LEA’s implementation of the educational reform law and to liaise with the State. MACo and counties were in strong support of HB 1196 as drafted and introduced, viewing the bill as a clear demonstration of the State’s commitment to partner with locals to successfully manage the Blueprint’s many financial challenges.
The bill was amended in a manner which greatly alters the intent of the bill. Amended, HB 1196:
- Mandates every county board of education to provide a minimum salary of $150,000 for its Blueprint Coordinator position, regardless of variances in costs of living and financial capacity among the 24 diverse jurisdictions;
- Strikes the State grants to pay for these positions and instead splits the salary cost at the foundation formula rate between the State and counties; and
- Provides some financial support for two specific LEAs.
Ultimately, the bill did not passed the 2023 session. However, the General Assembly did add $2,000,000 in special funds for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Grant Program budget within MSDE to provide funds for counties to hire local coordinators. The distribution of funds will follow the same proportion by which the State allocates funding for the State share of public education funding.
Libraries and Literacy
MACo supported HB 276/SB 205 – Education – Libraries – Funding to increase the per person State funding of libraries and regional resource centers. The increase in state support will better match the financial support counties currently provide these institutions. The bill passed the 2023 session as amended and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
MACo opposed HB 65/SB 352 – Education – Public Libraries – Collective Bargaining, which would have authorized all public libraries to collectively bargain and would have established a one-size-fits all approach to negotiations. The bill did not pass in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 243/SB 300 – Baltimore City Young Readers Program and Young Readers Matching Grant Program – Alterations (Young Readers Program Act of 2023) to expand a grant program and funding for counties to pursue partnerships with nonprofits to encourage youth reading and literacy and provide free, quality literature and materials for Maryland’s young readers. The bill passed the 2023 session as amended and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.