Community Schools and Access to Free School Meals
Hunger-Free Schools Act of 2017– Guaranteeing that all Baltimore City school students continue to have access to universal free school meals, this bill was a priority for Family League this year. The bill reauthorizes the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the original Hunger-Free Schools act until 2022, increasing the number of students across the state who will benefit from access to free school meals. Baltimore City is ahead of the rest of the state in simplifying the process for students to access free school meals, but the passage of this bill into law positively impacts the lives of students and families across Maryland.
Maryland Meals for Achievement for Teens Act of 2017– This bill permits and provides funding to secondary schools that serve breakfast in more parts of the school than just the cafeteria, including ‘grab and go’ carts and in-class breakfasts. The bill also clarifies that breakfast may be served to students of all economic backgrounds, regardless of free/reduced lunch eligibility status – thus reducing barriers and helping more students start the day nourished and ready to learn.
Maryland Fair Access to Education Act of 2017– Essentially a “Ban the Box” for colleges, this bill prohibits institutions of higher education that receive state funding from considering criminal background information when evaluating candidates for admission. Reducing barriers to reentry, particularly for justice-involved youth seeking higher education, is central to our vision of a Baltimore where all children will be born healthy, succeed in school, graduate high school and transition into higher education and the workforce.
Children of Incarcerated Parents
Maryland Equal Access to Food Act of 2017– This bill repeals the restrictions placed on non-violent felony drug offenders that currently prevent them from being eligible for SNAP and other benefits for at least a year after they’ve completed their sentences. An amendment was introduced to ensure that those who are receiving SNAP/TCA benefits at the time of their conviction, who have offended at least three times, would remain ineligible for benefits. Previously, no other category of offense, violent or not, triggered the SNAP/TCA ban. We’re thankful to the Delegates and Senators who recognized that denying access to food for individuals and their families creates an unnecessarily punitive and cumbersome barrier to successful reentry, and are hopeful that this legislation will make the process of reentry easier for thousands of Baltimore families.
Tuition Waivers for Foster Care Recipients and Unaccompanied Homeless Youth– This bill modifies existing law to expand access to the waivers to qualifying students who happen to graduate from high school before turning 18, and makes non-credit courses eligible to be paid for with a waiver. This bill became necessary after an oversight in the wording of last year’s legislation, which accidentally excluded a very small number of eligible youth. We’re grateful to the legislature’s leadership in making college more accessible for vulnerable youth.
Paid Sick Leave
Maryland Healthy Working Families Act– The bill will require employers to provide employees with earned sick and safe leave. This victory is significant not only because hundreds of thousands of Maryland families will no longer have to choose between their health and their livelihoods, but also because this legislation stalled last year in the 2016 Session. Family League is a member of the Working Matters Coalition, and is grateful for the leadership and dedication that its members have shown in moving this issue forward over the past four years. The passage of this paid sick leave bill into law is a reminder that the legislative process requires continuous engagement from affected citizens, and when we all come together, we can achieve truly wonderful goals.
Note: Some amendments were made to HB 1 as a part of its journey between the House and Senate, and we plan to monitor the impacts of those amendments on the implementation of this law.
School Discipline and Restorative Practices
Ban on Suspension & Expulsions in Public Schools– This bill prohibits the suspension and/or expulsion of public school students from prekindergarten through second grade for behavioral misconduct. This bill requires the utilization of restorative practices to determine the cause of a student’s misbehavior, but does allow for the suspension of a student who endangers a staff member, other student, or commits an act that would be considered a crime if committed by an adult. We are hopeful that this legislation will encourage school districts and school-based staff to take a holistic approach to dealing with the behavioral issues students present, as well as place a focus on ensuring that school staff have the training and resources available to them to meet the requirements of this new law.
Commission on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices– This bill establishes a Commission to evaluate current disciplinary practices throughout Maryland, exemplar restorative practices from across the nation, and make recommendations to the General Assembly for a course of action that will employ best practices to mitigate factors that contribute to the School-to-Prison pipeline. The work that will be done by this Commission is an issue of equity, because Black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended and expelled, and we’re eager to see these negative disciplinary practices eventually eliminated.
Small Loans for Food Desert Projects– This bill requires the Department of Housing and Community Development to offer small loan opportunities to projects aimed at increasing the variety and availability of fresh foods in areas that have been defined as food deserts.