The House Minority Caucus today announced a package education legislation designed to address and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our colleagues in the House Minority Caucus are committed to ensuring that ALL students in Maryland receive a quality education”, said House Minority Whip Delegate Kathy Szeliga. “We are hearing from parents and teachers across the state as they look for us to represent their interests and the interests of their students. They are watching their children decline academically as they struggle with virtual learning. They see the toll this isolation is having on the overall wellbeing. They are begging us for help. Meanwhile, the Maryland’s Teachers Union keeps throwing up roadblocks and making excuses as to why children should not return to the classroom. This is unconscionable.”
The package of legislation focuses on immediate actions to help Maryland families, and provide them with options should schools not fully open by the 2021-2022 school year. Also included are two bills guaranteeing services for our most vulnerable students.
Real Money for Real Education Act
The Real Money for Real Education Act would provide grants to grants to families in school districts that do not fully reopen to in-person learning by start of the 2021-2022 school year. Families would be eligible for an amount of money equal to the portion of per pupil spending that comes from the state. These funds can then be used to attend any private or parochial school in Maryland. According to the Department of Legislative Services this would amount to about $7000 per student.
“Just ten minutes from my home over the Pennsylvania line students have been in school full time at full capacity with no increase in community spread from the schools,” said Delegate Lauren Arikan, the bill sponsor. “Maryland parents want schools fully reopened. Hybrid models are untenable for teachers and unacceptable for our children. The past year’s education policy has been a dereliction of duty. We have asked our most vulnerable students to carry the weight of this pandemic. It’s time to get students and teachers back in the classroom together.”
Learning at Home Relief Act
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, households with children in Kindergarten through 12th grade will spend an average of $790 per family on school related items in the 2020-2021 school year. A significant increase over prior years, this number still does not take into account the myriad of other expenses such as expanded childcare needs, higher costs for internet services, higher energy costs for houses occupied for longer periods of time, and even higher food costs.
The Learning at Home Relief Act provides a tax credit of $250 per child to help offset some of the costs families have had to undertake to educate their children at home.
“Remote learning has not only taken its toll on the academic wellbeing of our children, it has also impacted families in a number of ways”, said Delegate Brenda Thiam, the bill’s sponsor. “Parents have had to reorganize their households and their household expenses to accomodate for their children learning at home. While costs are going up, many families have had to reduce work time or even quit jobs entirely in order to support their children’s education. Maryland families need a break, and that is what the Learning Relief Act Provides.”
Education Equality for All Act and Vulnerable Student Protection Act
The prolonged school closures have disproportionately impacted special needs and other at-risk student populations. The Education Equality for All Act and the Vulnerable Student Protection Act, both sponsored by Delegate Mike Griffith, establish safeguards that address the needs of vulnerable students so they are never again abandoned by the public school system.
“As the father of a child with autism, these bills are very personal to me”, said Delegate Griffith. “I’ve seen my son regress. I’ve see the emotional, physical, and mental consequences that school closures have had on at-risk students. It is unacceptable, and must never be allowed to happen again.”
The Education Equality for All Act addresses special needs evaluations. These evaluations are critical to establishing and updating the Individualized Education Program, or IEP. Every public school student in the United States who needs special education is entitled to an IEP under federal law. Under the Education Equality For All Act, if schools are closed and unable to perform the necessary evaluations special needs children are entitled to, the school system must give provide parents with information to have these evaluations done independently.
The Vulnerable Student Protection Act would require schools to provide critical services in-person to at-risk student for 2021-2022 school year. Even if schools are closed, this bill would require specific services such as special education, speech and language services, counseling and behavioral health, physical and occupational therapy, and nutritional services be offered on an in-person basis to at-risk students. Students entitled to these in-person services would include students with disabilities and other at-risk populations including economically disadvantaged, homeless, and those in foster care.
“We believe this package of bills will be important to helping Maryland’s families as they struggle with educating their children at home”, said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke. “However, our number one priority is to get Maryland’s students back in to classrooms as soon as possible. We fully support the Governor’s call to reopen Maryland’s schools. Any school system that claims it is not ready for such a step should be ashamed. They had to submit plans months ago and have had plenty of time to prepare. The time for excuses is over. We must do what is best for our children.