ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland lawmakers rolled out plans Tuesday to change the state constitution to require that taxes on casino revenue set aside for schools must be used to enhance education funding above current state formulas.
Lawmakers have been criticized for years for claiming that Maryland’s gambling expansion, first approved by voters in a 2008 constitutional amendment, would provide hundreds of millions of dollars for education each year. Critics say the pledge has rung hollow as the state grappled to address budget shortfalls during the lean years of the Great Recession.
The measure would put the matter on the ballot for voters to decide in November whether the money raised by gambling for education would be required to be spent in addition to what the law currently requires. Supporters say it would add roughly $500 million a year to school funding when fully phased in over four years.
“It will take us a few years to phase that out to find general funds for the rest of the programs we have in the state of Maryland, but the fact of the matter is that we want to go back to prioritizing education,” said House Speaker Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.
The move comes as lawmakers look ahead to next year, when a state commission is expected to recommend Maryland’s education funding formulas be raised. In 2002, the General Assembly adopted the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act to significantly increase the amount of money the state spends each year on public education from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has put $6.5 billion in the budget for the next fiscal year for K-12 education, which the administration notes is a record amount.
However, critics say the funding formulas are badly outdated, and it’s time to revisit and raise them.
“We have to renew our commitment to our No. 1 constitutional duty and that is to provide an adequate education for the school children of this state,” said Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
Betty Weller, a Kent County middle-school teacher who leads the Maryland State Education Association, said it will clearly be challenging to find badly needed money.
“That’s why it’s a no-brainer for the state to guarantee that all casino revenue raised in the Education Trust Fund go toward increasing funding beyond the formula as the first-step commitment to the Maryland promise plan,” said Weller, who leads the teachers’ union with about 74,000 members.
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