Monday, January 11, 2010

MCEA President: Teacher Pension Handoff "Unacceptable"

Following are the remarks of Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) President Doug Prouty from the union's recent legislative breakfast, in which he brands any handoff of teacher pensions to the counties as "unacceptable." MPW readers who are not from Montgomery County should understand that the union's nickname here is "the 800-pound Gorilla of MoCo Politics," a title it has earned through repeated deployments of its fearsome Apple Ballot. Prouty also calls for adjusting per-pupil spending mandated by the state's Maintenance of Effort requirement for inflation.

Montgomery County Education Association, msea/nea
Annual Legislative Breakfast

Saturday January 9, 2010
MCEA Center for Leadership and Learning

Remarks of Doug Prouty, MCEA President

Good morning, and welcome to MCEA’s Annual Legislative Breakfast. This year’s event is a first in a couple of ways. This is my first Legislative Breakfast as President of MCEA. I was honored, and humbled, last spring to be elected MCEA President by our members. These are challenging times, and I take the responsibility of protecting and advancing the interests of our members – and of our schools and students – very seriously. I began my career in MCPS 14 years ago as a high school English teacher. But as a lifelong resident of Montgomery County and graduate of Montgomery County Public Schools, I have been a part of MCPS most of my life. Many of you may also remember my father – Keith Prouty – who was an activist and leader for social justice in our community for many, many years. He not only served as the chair of the NAACP’s Political Action Committee, but was also a consistent and vocal advocate for our schools; helping to found and lead the Education Political Action Committee back in the 1980’s and 90’s. I am committed to carrying on his legacy of leadership on behalf of the poor and working families of our community.

This is also the first MCEA Legislative Breakfast in our new conference center here at 12 Taft Court. Let me welcome everyone to our new home. The MCEA Board of Directors has made a major investment in the future of our organization, and we look forward to this facility being a resource for our members, and for the community, for many, many years to come. We have named our new conference center the “MCEA Center for Leadership and Learning” because we intend it to be a vehicle for just that: cultivating the lifelong learning and leadership development of educators.

This Legislative Breakfast is primarily a time for frontline educators to talk with our elected representatives about the needs in our classrooms and our schools. We are the 16th largest school system in the nation. All of us – from classroom teachers and school bus drivers, to school board members, county council members and members of the state legislative delegation, bear an awesome responsibility to do what is best for our children and their future. We want to share our collective priorities for education in the upcoming legislative session, and to reflect together on the state of public education here in Montgomery County and on what we must do to provide the best possible education for our 142,000 students.

Maintenance of Effort

The current debate over the state’s Maintenance of Effort requirements is one of the most important issues facing the public education community in the upcoming legislative session. Let me be perfectly clear – we do not believe that Maintenance of Effort is a “stupid” law. Quite the contrary. We believe that Maintenance of Effort is fair, appropriate, essential, and, in fact, not strong enough.

Maintenance of Effort (MOE) is the simple notion that if the state government increases its funding for local public education, that the local county government cannot then decrease its per-pupil spending. Increased state aid for education is expected to be spent on education, and not “supplant” local school funding dollars so county governments can spend the money on other priorities. There is nothing “stupid” about that.

Maintenance of Effort is actually a very low bar. If all a county did was meet Maintenance of Effort, over time it would be starving our schools. Maintenance of Effort makes no provision for the increased cost of goods and services: no provision for the increased cost of textbooks, energy to heat our classrooms, diesel fuel to run our buses, or cost-of-living adjustments for salaries to keep pace with inflation. Inflation has gone up 35% over the last ten years. Can you imagine how devastating it would be to our schools if all Montgomery County had done was simply maintain the same-dollar-per-pupil spending as it had ten years ago?

The point is simply that Maintenance of Effort should be a floor, and not a ceiling. It is indeed a very “low bar”, and simply exceeding Maintenance of Effort is hardly cause for celebration, or self-congratulation.

There is one part of the current Maintenance of Effort requirement that does not make sense- the provision that imposes a loss in state aid to a local school system as a consequence for a local county government not meeting Maintenance of Effort. This amounts to nothing less than punishing the victim. If a local county government fails to meet Maintenance of Effort, it is the county government that makes that decision – and not the school system – that should suffer any penalty. As the General Assembly considers changes to the Maintenance of Effort requirement, we very much hope that you will change this absurd situation so that the consequences of failing to meet Maintenance of Effort fall on those who make the decision, not on those who are already the victim of such decisions – our schools.

We are also supportive of the effort to enact a legislative waiver of any penalty on Montgomery County for the failure to meet Maintenance of Effort in the current fiscal year (2009-2010). As I just explained, to penalize our schools for a decision made by the county government is just wrong.

However, we strongly oppose any erosion of the Maintenance of Effort requirement. Some have proposed that if a county gets within 95% of Maintenance of Effort that should be good enough. Good enough is not- our kids deserve better.

Before the General Assembly acts to weaken the Maintenance of Effort requirement, I would suggest that it should – at the very least – adjust Maintenance of Effort to account for inflation. Maintaining per-pupil spending should be in inflation-adjusted spending, not just a fixed dollar amount. $10,000 in per-pupil spending in 2010 is a far cry from $10,000 in per-pupil spending in 1990. Changing Maintenance of Effort so that it is in inflation-adjusted dollars would be a much more honest standard for “maintaining local effort”. Let’s establish a more meaningful definition of Maintenance of Effort before we make it easier to get waivers.

State Budget

Clearly, the biggest issue facing the General Assembly in the upcoming session is the overall state budget deficit. I have yet to meet an elected official who did not proclaim their support for public education. But the real measure of the support is not what is said on the campaign trail, but rather what one does when times are tough. We understand that there will be difficult decisions ahead. The real friends of education will be those who are willing to make the hard choices so that support for our schools and our students is a top priority. We know it is not going to be easy. But our charge to you is to do all you can to protect and maximize state funding for our schools. We are counting on our delegation to ensure that Montgomery County does not bear a disproportionate share of whatever budget cuts are ultimately necessary.

Everyone here knows that Maryland’s schools have been rated the best in the nation. And I think we all know that Montgomery County’s schools are the best in the state. Neither we, nor our children, can afford to put that at risk.

State Funding of Teacher Pensions

An issue that is integrally related to the state education budget is continuation of state funding of the teacher pension plan. There are some in the legislature who want to shift future increases in the cost of teacher pensions to local governments. For them, this is the answer regardless of what the question is. It’s like a broken record.

As my predecessor, Bonnie Cullison, said last year, this is unacceptable. We applaud the bold statement made by our county executive, Ike Leggett, that this is a ‘line in the sand” that should not be crossed. In fact, we consider it a “line in cement” and one that cannot be rubbed out or washed away.

Let me take a moment to review some of the key arguments the Montgomery County delegation needs to be making in order to maintain state funding of teacher pensions.

• First, state funding of teacher pensions is one of the only state aid formulas that favors Montgomery County. A reduction in the state’s commitment will disadvantage Montgomery County disproportionately.

• Second, state funding of teacher pensions is a long-standing part of the complex balance between the state and local jurisdictions on both revenue and expenditures. It is simply unfair to pass these expenses back to the counties without also passing back revenue sources as well.

• Third, this isn’t a strategy for balancing the budget; it’s a strategy for passing the buck. Every single county would suffer. When there is a budget deficit, you have to either increase revenues, decrease expenditures, or both. Shifting the costs to somebody else doesn’t help to solve the problem.

• Fourth, this is a long-term solution to a short-term problem. We all recognize that our state – and our nation – face a serious recession. But like all recessions, we will get through it and the economy will recover. It is disingenuous to advocate for a long-term change in the relationship between the state and the counties as a solution to a short-term budget shortfall.

• Finally, it is simply unfair to force the counties to pay for a pension system that is controlled by the state. The state legislature determines the benefit formulas. The state pension board oversees both the administration of the plan and the investment of its assets. How can anyone argue that the counties should be expected to pay for a state-run program over which the counties have no control? As we have said before, the next thing you know the president of the state senate will be telling the counties they have to pay for the state police as well; after all – the crime occurs in the counties.

United, our delegation has the size, strength, and sophistication to block any budget that that deeply harms our county. Now you have the opportunity to show your true mettle. I would encourage each and every member of the delegation to go on record stating that they will not vote for any budget that includes any shift in funding for teacher pensions. Only then will the leadership understand that this cannot be a part of any package.

While the budget issues are foremost on everyone’s mind, there are three other, non-economic issues before the legislature this year that I would like to mention.

Public Employee Labor Relations Bill

For several years, we and the Maryland State Education Association have advocated for reform of the collective bargaining law that was first created 40 years ago for school employees. It is antiquated and needs to be updated to meet the challenges of today’s environment. Last year our own State Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Sheila Hixson introduced bills in their respective chambers to improve the processes for resolving labor management disputes. A much amended bill passed the Senate, but was unable to be brought back up in the House as the clock ran out of time at the end of the session. Senator Raskin, with the co-sponsorship of Chairman Mac Middleton will be resubmitting the amended bill, as will Delegate Hixson in the House. We have already spoken with most of our senators and delegates. And I am very pleased to report that virtually every single member of the Montgomery County legislative delegation has agreed to co-sponsor this bill. Thank you very much for your support.


The so-called Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers (BOAST) Maryland Tax Credit bill is nothing more than a tax credit scheme that is a backdoor approach to providing vouchers to parents of students in nonpublic schools.

The research in Arizona, Illinois, and Pennsylvania shows that the greatest beneficiaries of such tax credit programs are wealthier tax payers and schools in middle and upper income neighborhoods. A study by the non-partisan RAND Corporation concluded that tuition tax subsidies rarely benefit poor children. It is families already attending private or religious schools that benefit the most. And as with vouchers, tuition tax credits provide funds to nonpublic schools without regard to the schools’ entrance policies. Some private schools do and would continue to deny entrance to certain students.

When facing a budget shortfall, the state cannot afford to lose revenue through a tuition tax credit that subsidizes private school tuition. We urge all of our legislators to continue to oppose this ill-conceived idea.

In Conclusion

We all have a challenging year ahead of us: whether it be the MCEA members here who face increasing demands every day to do more with less, or the elected officials who face the daunting task of figuring out how to fund the services our communities desperately need and cannot afford to lose.

I have already met and worked with many of the elected officials here today, and I look forward to getting to know all of you better in the coming months and years. During these challenging times, it is our ability to work together collaboratively that will lead to the best outcomes. Far too often, we see legitimate discussions over policy differences devolve into personal conflicts and political gamesmanship. My goal is to work with all of you: MCEA members, state legislators, county council members and board of education members, to put aside the personal and political agendas so that we can focus on how to best meet the needs of our students, our schools, and the thousands of dedicated, hard-working school employees who work miracles every day with our children.

Thank you all for coming out this morning, and for everything you do on behalf of our schools and our students.