New Legislation in Maryland Will Mean Dramatic Strides in Early Care and Education

by Clinton Macsherry, Director of Public Policy
Maryland Family Network

As Maryland political observers might readily have forecast, change and unpredictability ushered in the 2020 Legislative Session. Seismic shifts at the pinnacles of leadership in both the Senate and House of Delegates sent aftershocks rippling through the General Assembly power structure. But no one could have foreseen the upheaval that ensued. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed death, illness, and disruption on a global scale not witnessed in a century.  

Annapolis, of course, was not immune. Faced with a rapidly intensifying public health emergency, the Governor and legislative leaders in mid-March barred public entry to the State House office complex, casting an eerily depopulated pall over buildings normally bustling with staff, advocates, and other citizens. As the situation grew even more dire, the Session abruptly closed on March 18, three weeks ahead of schedule — the first early adjournment since the Civil War.  
 
And yet, amid the most trying circumstances many can remember, the Session concluded with an extraordinary flurry of activity. With only a smattering of legislation finalized even the week before, the General Assembly enacted more than 650 bills in its final three days. Faced with spotty internet connections and unstaffed legislative offices, Maryland Family Network (MFN) struggled remotely to keep abreast and weigh in on critical matters, when possible. The sprint to the finish included not only the passage of a challenging FY 2021 budget, but several major pieces of education legislation. Chief among them was the landmark “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” which embodies the most dramatic strides in early childhood education in decades. While the uncertainly that marked the beginning of the 2020 Session remains in even greater force, the “Blueprint” legislation — like the pandemic itself — will mark a point in Maryland history. 

Key Victory

 
HB 1300 “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future”
Based on the recommendations of the blue-ribbon Kirwan Commission, the “Blueprint” legislation will institute sweeping reforms in the K-12 education system and lead to dramatic strides in early care and education. Its key early childhood provisions include a vast expansion of public pre-k in schools and child care programs, enhanced professional development for providers, new funding for the Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program, and the creation of 135 new Judy Centers and 30 new Family Support Centers over the next 10 years. The “Blueprint” represents a triumph of MFN’s efforts in these areas and is arguably the state’s most important piece of legislation in decades. Although the Governor vetoed the bill on May 7, it passed the General Assembly with overwhelming majorities, and a vigorous override campaign is expected.

Unfinished Business

 
HB 839 / SB 539 “Time to Care Act”
Introduced for a second consecutive year, the Time to Care Act made tremendous progress but sadly fell short of success. It sought to establish an insurance fund to provide partial wage replacement for workers taking time away from jobs to care for new babies, loved ones with serious health conditions or disabilities, or themselves.  The U.S. is the only industrialized country that lacks a paid family and medical leave program, and Maryland would have become the ninth state to establish one. The bill was under active negotiation until early adjournment become inevitable; no final vote on the legislation was taken. Ironically, the pandemic has itself spotlighted this critical need.  

Looking Ahead

 
The pandemic’s negative impact on the state budget will almost certainly be severe, and allocations to critical programs are vulnerable to potential cuts.  Even before the pandemic struck, the Governor had indicated serious reservations about the “Blueprint” legislation, so his veto was not entirely unexpected. The timing of an override vote will depend on whether the General Assembly convenes a Special Session in the coming months or waits until the opening of the 2021 Session. In the meantime, Maryland’s young children and families face challenges no one would have imagined a short while ago, and child care providers are struggling for their survival at a time when they will be utterly indispensable to economic recovery. MFN must redouble its public policy efforts to protect and advance all their interests.
 
Maryland Family Network gratefully acknowledges the strong support of the Alliance for Early Success.

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