by Llew Brown and David Duba
The 2018 mid-term elections will be held Tuesday, November 6th, 2018. In this election cycle, voters will make a number of choices that will impact public education in Maryland for years to come. Perhaps it’s poetic justice that the first amendment listed on the ballot is related to education funding, a key issue across the country in 2018. This past spring, teachers participated in large scale protests and went on strike in six separate states. These protests were inspired by wages being below the cost of living for school personnel and inadequate budgets for classroom supplies. They coincided with an incident here in Prince George’s County involving the inflation of pay for central office employees, and the early closure of schools throughout the county during the first week of classes due to an inability to adequately cool aging facilities. Given the array of issues facing public education, it’s reasonable to ask, “Where will money to fix public school issues come from, and how can we ensure adequate and equitable funding?” Read further to review a bit of history related to the use of casino funds, and the potential impact of question 1 on the future of public education funding in Maryland.
What is Question 1?
Question 1 on the ballot proposes a constitutional amendment that requires the governor to use casino revenue to supplement funding for prekindergarten through grade 12 in public schools, beyond the minimum levels prescribed by current funding formulas. Sometimes referred to as the “casino lockbox” amendment, passage of this ballot initiative could steer millions of dollars from casino revenues to fund public education.
Didn’t the law already require casino money to support education?
In 2008, voters decided to legalize gambling in the state of Maryland. Revenue from taxes on gambling was since added to the state budget each year. However, according to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, general tax revenue that was used to fund education prior to 2009 has been regularly diverted from education funding as casino tax revenue has increased. Money that used to be spent on education from the general tax revenue is being diverted to other projects like road construction and employee salaries. Put another way, gambling revenue has replaced education funding, not increased it. By voting yes on Question 1, money from casino revenue will be used to supplement funding for education, per an amendment to the Maryland constitution.
How much money is at stake? How can the money be used?
If enough citizens vote yes on Question 1, an additional $125 million in funding from casino revenue would supplement Maryland’s overall education budget beginning fall 2020, and funding would increase each year until it reaches an estimated $517 million in 2023.
The following text, quoted from the proposed amendment describes how the funding would need to be spent:
The supplemental funding shall be used to:
(I) ensure access to public education that allows children in the state to compete in the global economy of the future;
(ii) provide funding for high–quality early childhood education programs;
(iii) provide opportunities for public school students to participate in career and technical education programs that lead to an identified job skill or certificate;
(iv) allow students to obtain college credit and degrees while in high school at no cost to the students;
(v) support the advancement and professionalization of educators in public schools; and
(vi) maintain, renovate, or construct public schools.
What’s the downside?
It is important to note that the formula that drives state funding for education is currently being re-evaluated by a special commission. The preliminary recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education (i.e. the Kirwan Commission) call for major funding to promote student achievement and equitable access to high quality teachers. It is possible that passage of Question 1, and the subsequent increase in casino revenue, will be a factor in the new formulas. This might mean that casino funding might once again not act as a supplement to the budget, but as a replacement for funds that would have been allocated from the general budget.
Another potential downside is that should this amendment pass, the funding for education will rise, ultimately drawing more funding from other parts of the budget. This will mean that officials may cut funds from road and infrastructure construction, environmental programs, healthcare, and all other parts of the budget, or raise taxes to maintain or increase the scope of their programs.
Citizens of Prince George’s County will have many opportunities to influence education, including the election of several candidates for the board of education. When it comes to addressing the financial needs of our local schools, passage of Question 1 would be an important first step.
Maryland education funding
- The fiscal year 2019 state budget includes $6.5 billion for K-12 education
Teacher salaries and other rankings from the National Education Association
- Maryland was ranked 31 in 2016 for average student enrollment per teacher (14.6)
- Maryland was ranked 9 in 2016 for average teacher salary ($66,456)
- Maryland was ranked 9 in 2015 for per capita personal income for the state ($55,972). Meaning that the ranking for salary is proportional to the ranking for average per capita income.