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Education Government & Politics

Lawmakers Again Look to Add Parent, Teachers to State Education Board

Del. Eric D. Ebersole (D-Baltimore, Howard)

Advocates are trying again for a bill that would add seats for a parent and teachers to the Maryland State Board of Education.

A similar measure was passed by Democratic majorities in the legislature last year, but vetoed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to the measure, House Bill 87, on Wednesday morning, with a final vote scheduled for later this week. The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which passed the measure last session, held a hearing on the Senate cross-file in the afternoon.

The bill would add three new members to the Maryland State Board of Education: a parent, and two teachers, one with a background in elementary grades and one with a background in secondary grades.

The new teacher members would be chosen after an election by teachers in the state coordinated by the Maryland State Department of Education.

The parent member would be selected by the governor from a list of candidates submitted by the Maryland PTA. All three members would be subject to confirmation by the Maryland Senate.

In the House, Democratic lawmakers defeated two amendments from Republican colleagues on Wednesday morning that would have removed the election process for the teacher candidates and removed a requirement that the state teachers unions receive notice ahead of an election.

In vetoing similar legislation in 2018, Hogan expressed concern that the Maryland State Education Association or Baltimore Teachers Union could exert too much influence in the elections or on the state board.

“The participation of individuals selected to represent a specific special interest union group, could have unintended negative consequences and could result in encouraging narrowly focused agendas that are in the interest of a few and not for the common good,” Hogan wrote on May 24, 2018. “A policy making board of the magnitude and importance of the Maryland State Board of Education should represent all stakeholder groups, but most of all who are singularly focused on the needs of Maryland school children and not just be a collection of special interest group representatives.”

Del. Eric D. Ebersole (D-Baltimore, Howard), who has sponsored the measure the last two years, said the 2019 bill aims to alleviate some of those concerns by shifting the selection of teacher members to an election of all certified teachers in the state.

The bill received some early support in the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery).

Three members of the committee, including Chairman Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) have signed on as cosponsors.

Committee member Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) said he agrees with the spirit of the bill, calling it a little modest, even.

“This is very modest. We need more educators to make education policy in Maryland,” Ellis said during the hearing. “So I look forward to improving that over the years.”

The current Maryland State Board of Education opposes the bill.

Board President Justin M. Hartings said the state board has an open-door policy to accept information from anyone interested in the work of the state board and State Department of Education. He said the specific carve-out to add teachers could establish a precedent to add even more members in the future and remarked that the selection of teachers seemed arbitrary when the voices of other interest groups could be just as helpful to the board.

“How do you stop from continuing to add more and more and more stakeholders?” Hartings asked.

He said the state department is also concerned about its ability to conduct the election required in the bill.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education is also opposed to the bill, Ellis said.

Under current law, teachers and anyone else who is subject to the authority of the state board is not eligible to be appointed to the board. Eleven states either require or allow a teacher to be a member of the state board of education and nine states prohibit teacher members on the state board, according to a Department of Legislative Services analysis. Two states, Massachusetts and Nevada, require a parent of a public school student to be appointed to the board.

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Lawmakers Again Look to Add Parent, Teachers to State Education Board