Democrats vow to fight Hogan education cuts

Democrats vow to fight Hogan education cuts

General Assembly Democrats and the state teachers union vowed Tuesday to fight what they called unacceptable cuts to education aid proposed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh joined about two dozen lawmakers and education advocates who said they oppose the reductions Hogan has proposed in the projected growth of state education aid to the counties.

Busch recalled that the state's current funding formula for education was devised after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit, charging that Maryland was not meeting its constitutional responsibility to fund the schools adequately.

"We can't leave an entire generation of children behind, waiting for somebody to file a lawsuit," Busch said.

Shortly after the news conference at the Maryland State Education Association headquarters, Hogan's office released a statement defending his education proposals.

"Ensuring that all our students have the opportunity to receive the very best education possible, regardless of where they live, will always be a top priority for Governor Hogan," the statement said. "The fact is Governor Hogan's budget makes a record investment in K-12 education and includes $290 million for school construction."

The exchange is part of what is likely to be a prolonged struggle over education until the end of the legislature's 90-day session in April. Lawmakers can't by themselves add money to the governor's proposed budget, but in negotiations they can pressure him to restore some spending.

Hogan's budget does call for the state to spend a record $6.1 billion on education aid next year, growth due in part to growth in student enrollment. But his proposal also cuts in half aid to Baltimore and other jurisdictions where it costs more to run schools. It also caps the growth of education aid at less than the rate of enrollment growth — not just for next year, but going forward after that.

Critics charge that Hogan's plan would lead to teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and less technology in the classroom. Their allies in the legislature say they will seek to restore those cuts by scouring Hogan's budget for alternatives.

McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said her committee will begin this week reviewing the budget of every agency looking for cuts. She said she has heard from officials in conservative Republican counties, as well as the populous Democratic jurisdictions, expressing dismay at the reductions.

"Carroll, Frederick and Cecil County all end up with less money than they have this year," McIntosh said. "Many predominantly Republican counties throughout this state are hopeful these cuts get restored."

Busch emphasized that local boards of education have no ability to raise revenue on their own but depend on county governments for funding. When he asked a bipartisan group of county executives whether they would make up for the proposed state cuts, Busch said, they all said no.

He said Hogan is proposing to cap the growth of the base education aid formula to 1 percent for the next several years. He said statewide enrollment has been growing at a rate of 1.5 percent to 2 percent a year.

Busch underscored the problems facing the Baltimore school system, which he said has as many students from homeless families as Kent County has total pupils.

"They get their meals there, they get their guidance there, they get their role models there," said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Baltimore is facing the potential loss of $35 million in school funding next year — largely as a result of the geographic index cuts and a formula under which it is considered wealthier because of rising tax assessments.

Both sides of the argument agreed that they are in the early stages of a process of give and take.

"Guaranteeing that Maryland's education system remains one of the best in the country requires all of us working together, and the governor welcomes input from legislators on how to solve our budgetary challenges while keeping education a number-one priority," said Hogan's statement.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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