ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s legislative leaders are betting on a bill that would send gambling revenue to bolster education spending.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) were flanked by dozens of lawmakers on Tuesday morning when they expressed support for an “education lockbox” that would tuck away about half a billion dollars in gambling revenue each year for public schools.
The bill, which is expected to be formally introduced this week, would put the option of creating the fund to voters, through a referendum at the November election.
The anticipated $500 million in gambling revenue is expected to be phased in as increased education funding over the course of four years, to blunt the impact of the revenue loss in other areas of the state’s spending plan, Busch said.
Democrats held a press conference celebrating the “Fix the Fund” plan and decried the state’s falling rank in the annual “Quality Counts” report from Education Week magazine.
In the most recent report released earlier this month, the state received a grade of B-minus and ranked sixth in the country for the overall quality of education. Maryland ranked first as recently as 2013.
“We do have a good reputation, but we have been working with limited resources for a long time,” said Delegate Karen Lewis Young (D-District 3A), who was on hand for Tuesday’s press conference. “... And it’s a red flag if you hear our state drops from No. 1 to No. 6 so quickly. Before we’re [No.] 20, I want to know what we can do to stop that freefall.”
Lewis Young and other lawmakers said the locked-away gambling revenue is needed for education funding, particularly in light of the work of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, commonly called the Kirwan Commission, which is expected to release recommendations for an extensive — and almost certainly pricey — overhaul of the state’s education system after this year’s legislative session.
The commission will also consider whether to rewrite the state’s education funding formulas, which set the state support levels for each of the 24 school systems in Maryland.
Delegate Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) is the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee and will sponsor the lockbox bill.
She said the state’s ranking reflects the state’s investment in education right now.
“We’re getting what we’re paying for,” McIntosh said, acknowledging that during the Great Recession, lawmakers slowed the formula-mandated increases in education spending.
“We have to renew our commitment to our No. 1 constitutional duty, and that is to provide an adequate education for the schoolchildren of this state,” McIntosh said.
Sen. Ron Young (D-District 3) supports the measure and said he hoped the lockbox effort would attract bipartisan support.
Douglass V. Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said that the administration agrees with the general idea to create an education lockbox fund, but hadn’t seen specific details of the bill.
He noted that the governor’s office had allocated $6.5 billion for education in the fiscal 2019 budget bill, which is a record level thanks in part to formula-mandated increases, but also from a commitment to funding above the formula levels.
“The governor over four years has provided record funding for education,” Mayer said, adding that the support of the lockbox by Democrats simply fulfills what they promised to voters when the state legalized casino gambling six years ago.
Delegate David E. Vogt III (R-District 4), a member of the Appropriations Committee that will consider the bill, said he also generally supported the idea of an education lockbox. In Frederick County, he’d like to see funding increases go to benefit agricultural education programs.
“It’s a priority that we want for Frederick County so that we can get some of that money back,” Vogt said.
The bill was supported Tuesday by representatives from the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s teachers union, which has about 74,000 members.