When Maryland residents voted in favor of allowing casino gambling in the state back in 2008, most did so under the auspices the money would be used to fund public schools. And, technically, it was — just not in the way many envisioned.
Democrats sold the bill as additional funding for public school systems around the state on top of what was already being spent. But what actually happened was the money from slot machines and, later, table games and other forms of casino gambling, went into the general fund. It paid for schools, sure, but money that had previously been funding education was instead diverted to other items like salaries, roadwork and other government programs.
So while gambling has provided a steady flow of funding for education, money for schools hasn’t kept pace with growth in gambling revenues.
Now, a handful of Democrats are proposing that state revenue from casino gaming be earmarked exclusively for education, above and beyond what is called for in the current education funding formulas. If such legislation is approved, it would put that matter to votes in November. Supporters have said it would add roughly $500 million a year to education funding statewide.
That additional funding could be extremely beneficial to school systems like Carroll County’s, which suffer from the current state funding formula that is weighted heavily toward enrollment, which has been declining in Carroll, and relative wealth, in which the county ranks relatively high.
And, generally, our all-Republican delegation is supportive of such a measure for those reasons, even if it expressed skepticism at the Democrats’ sudden change of heart in the matter. Carroll County state Sen. Justin Ready accurately described it as someone robbing a bank for years, then proposing putting locks on the bank so no one else can steal from it.
Like the delegation, we’re supportive of changes that will send more money toward public education. Our question, however, is if casino revenue were suddenly diverted exclusively to schools, how will those shortfalls be made up in the general fund?
There are really only two solutions: Make cuts elsewhere or raise taxes. Neither are particularly tenable solutions.
Latest Carroll County Times Opinion
It’s easy to get behind efforts to improve education funding. It’s one of the few things that partisans can typically agree to support, and even easier to get voters to approve. But without a clear plan to address what would be, in reality, a sudden shift of hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s general fund strictly for education, it’s difficult to call this legislation a winner.