Education advocates launch campaign to lock Maryland casino funds into public schools

Led by the Maryland State Education Association, educators and advocates from around the state gathered in Towson on Thursday to call on Marylanders to vote for a constitutional amendment that would reserve casino funds for public schools.

“Voting ‘yes’ on Question 1 will keep a promise made to voters: that casino revenues would increase school funding, instead of going other places within the [state] fund,” said Cheryl Bost, a Baltimore County teacher and president of the Maryland State Education Association.

Standing with about 25 teachers and advocates at the entrance to Loch Raven High School, Bost said that while the revenues the state receives from casinos go into the Education Trust Fund, “nearly the same amount of existing funding was shifted to other parts of the state budget,” meaning education funding did not grow.

The proposed amendment, which will appear on the general election ballot on Nov. 6, would close that loophole, she said.

“It is morally wrong to do anything different,” said Alvin Thornton, the architect of Maryland’s current education funding formula. “It is politically unwise to do anything different. it makes no economic sense to do anything different … it is very expensive, and litigious, and divisive, to do anything different.”

The General Assembly approved legislation for the “lockbox” in April, which would prevent gambling revenues from being spent on anything other than K-12 education. As a constitutional amendment, it requires a referendum.

According to the Towson event organizers, a poll by research firm GBA Strategies found that 80 percent of Marylanders support the amendment.

Gov. Larry Hogan supports the initiative. He released a digital advertisement last week urging Marylanders to vote “yes” on the referendum, a move that The Baltimore Sun reported drew the ire of Democrats, who said he was taking credit for their work and misrepresenting his own position.

Speakers at Thursday’s event said the change is needed because Maryland’s schools are underfunded.

Bost pointed to an analysis overseen by the Maryland State Department of Education determining that Maryland schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion annually, an average of $2 million per school.

She also pointed to a recent survey by the Maryland State Education Association that found that more than 40 percent of Maryland teachers have second jobs.

Joe Francaviglia, director of partnerships for the advocacy group Strong Schools Maryland, said because of overcrowding, school buildings are “in disrepair and are overcrowded” in districts such as Baltimore County. “That’s just not acceptable in the state of Maryland,” he said.

School funding has been particularly contentious in the Towson area in recent years, as the Towson High School and Dulaney High School communities have fought for funding for new school buildings.

Other organizations represented at Thursday event included the Baltimore Teachers Union, the Maryland Education Coalition, the Maryland PTA, the League of Women Voters, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education and immigrant advocacy group Casa de Maryland.

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