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Legislation would tackle low teacher pay, bargaining rights

High school math teacher
U.S. Dept. of Education
A high school math teacher

Education is one of many industries facing staff shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic; many educators and support staff point to low wages as the primary culprit.

Two pieces of legislation aimed at solving that problem took center stage during a virtual press conference hosted by the Maryland State Education Association Thursday.

Sen. Craig Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat, is sponsoring a bill to create $500 annual bonuses for bus drivers, paraprofessionals, custodians, and other education support workers, and to organize a legislative workgroup to study their pay.

“It's very important to make sure that our educators understand whether you're driving a bus, whether you're working in a building, whether you're working in a special education classroom, that they're appreciated,” Zucker said.

Del. Jazz Lewis, a Democrat from Prince George’s County is sponsoring a bill that would allow teachers to discuss class sizes during collective bargaining, something illegal in nine states, including Maryland.

“Teachers are reporting widespread burnout because of the pandemic, their workload, and especially the class sizes they're forced to work with,” he said, “We are facing a rise in turnover and staffing shortages because we are forcing teachers into impossible situations.”

Calling education support workers the backbone of the learning environment, Pia Morrison, president of SEIU Local 400, which represents 20,000 educators in Maryland and Washington, D.C., commended the lawmakers for their commitment to supporting the often-overlooked category of workers.

“Support staff are essential to the school day, but for far too long, they have not gotten the respect nor the recognition that they so richly deserve,” Morrison said.

Both bills have hearings early next month.