By any reckoning, we live in an extraordinary political moment, and the impact of these tumultuous times on young children in Maryland and nationwide remains to be seen.
However, despite the partisanship present at the national level, with few exceptions, the Governor and the Legislature conducted the business of the 2018 Maryland Session of the General Assembly with a remarkable lack of rancor, accomplishing much by working together.
For its part, Maryland Family Network (MFN) pursued an ambitious agenda. Some initiatives built upon years of prior work; others took aim at new targets of opportunity. In the end, MFN emerged with a string of successes, including landmark legislation in child care. The Governor’s budget proposal included an $11.5 million allocation for the Child Care Subsidy Program (CCSP). A vital support for many families and providers, CCSP helps low-income parents enter and remain in the workforce by subsidizing the high cost of quality child care. The investment targeted two laudable goals: eliminating the CCSP wait list, in effect since 2011 and numbering more than 4,300 children in late 2017; and increasing the State’s abysmally low subsidy rates by 8 percent. These are good first steps, but they’re insufficient to meet Maryland’s pent-up needs, and as it turns out, the Administration used recycled funds rather than new money. All of which necessitated the legislative action (SB 379/HB 430), which not only raises child care subsidy rates, but establishes a new “floor” so that rates never again fall so low. In terms of investment, breadth of benefit, and lasting impact, this was the most significant victory for early care and education in more than a decade.
In terms of the budget, the Governor proposed and the legislature approved stable funding for many programs critical to young children, including home visiting, the Maryland Infants & Toddlers Program, early childhood mental health consultation, and the State’s networks of Child Care Resource Centers and Family Support Centers (which operate under MFN’s stewardship). The final budget also included an $8.5 million increase in prekindergarten expansion funds, the majority of which was required by Maryland’s federal Preschool Development Grant and by legislation that MFN successfully championed in 2016.
Other Key Victories
- HB 1415 “Education – Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education” – Preserves $22.3 million in pre-K expansion dollars that might otherwise be lost when a federal grant expires.
- SB 859 / HB 775 “State Employees – Parental Leave” – In anticipation of future statewide legislation, provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave for State employees following the birth or adoption of a child.
- SB 373 / HB 547 “Education – Head Start Program – Annual Funding (The Ulysses Currie Act)” – Restores a $1.2 million budget cut imposed in 2009, potentially increasing services for more than 2,100 Head Start children.
- SB 912 / HB 1685 “Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Coordination Services Grant Program Fund (Thrive by Three Fund)” – Creates a grant program to expand the coordination of direct services for jurisdictions with a high percentage of births to Medicaid-eligible mothers.
Looking forward, MFN’s public policy work of necessity continues throughout the Interim between General Assembly sessions, as freshly minted legislation is implemented, task forces meet, new budget proposals are developed, contracts are negotiated, regulations are promulgated, and new ideas for legislation emerge for discussion and debate. A primary election in June and the general election in November bring additional opportunities to inform candidates about the many critical issues surrounding early care and education.
When the 2019 Session commences next January, Maryland may be under new leadership. Even if the incumbent Governor is re-elected, gubernatorial administrations usually undergo major overhauls in their second term. The rosters of the Senate and the House will almost certainly have experienced record turnover, and key committee assignments and leadership positions will be in flux. Altered power dynamics and steep learning curves will make for a treacherous landscape. The final Kirwan Commission report on reforming State education funding and policy is due later this year, and universal access to pre-K is expected to be cornerstone recommendation. Debate over the report and sweeping 2019 legislation that embodies it promises to be exceptionally intense.
In times of change and challenge, the role of a respected and resourceful advocate grows all the more critical. MFN will stand prepared to protect the needs and advance the interests of Maryland’s young children and their families.
– Clinton Macsherry, Director of Public Policy
Maryland Family Network
(May 24, 2018)