In the last few weeks we've heard much about the neglected and underdeveloped parts of Baltimore and how decades of degradation and neglect played a role in the recent social upheaval and civil unrest. Almost universally we've heard activists, experts and thought leaders tout education as a surefire way to make long-term changes to blighted communities.
Therefore, imagine our shock and disappointment here at the Baltimore Teachers Union when Gov. Larry Hogan announced he would withhold over $11 million from students here in Baltimore City by refusing to release Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) funding. The governor often brags that he has allocated more money for education than any other governor in Maryland history. While strictly true, this claim needs context: The total funding for education has increased (as it does almost yearly at this point), but most calculations have the governor spending less per pupil in the state than was spent last school year. However in Baltimore City, with this decision to cut GCEI funding, schools will see an overall reduction in state aid in both per pupil funding and in net overall funding. Any way you look at it, Mr. Hogan is cutting aid to Baltimore at a time we need it most.
The image of the governor coming to Baltimore claiming he was here to help is still fresh in our city's memory. What a stark contradiction our city's residents now face: Can our governor say he wants to help the city one moment, and then in the next moment withhold more than $11 million from education here? How can the governor say residents of the city asked for recreation centers and jobs and then turn around and cut the funding for the school programs that provide recreational activities and job training to the children and community of the city? Many community schools offer wrap around services including GED training, mental health care, health and wellness classes and much more; by cutting GCEI, Governor Hogan is effectively cutting those very programs he himself acknowledges the residents asked him for in the wake of the Freddie Gray protest.
At this moment, GCEI funds cannot legally be used on anything else, so to suggest this money instead will go to state worker pensions is naively unaware at best — or repulsively dishonest at worst. By saying he is using this money for Marylanders' pensions, Governor Hogan is creating a false dichotomy between state pensions and school funding, when in fact the Maryland General Assembly has already found sufficient money for both.
Last week when Governor Hogan announced he would withhold $68 million in education funding, the governor claimed that teachers unions ran a smear campaign against him. However, during a news conference in Baltimore calling on the governor to release those funds, figures such as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore City Public School System CEO Gregory Thornton and a host of state legislators were in attendance. Were they also running a smear campaign? Was Del. Maggie McIntosh — chair of the Maryland House Appropriations Committee, the committee that found the money to fund education and worker pension — in on the "smear campaign" because she also called on Governor Hogan to release the money? What the governor fails to realize is that we in the teachers union aren't interested in smear campaigns, we're interested in providing our students the best resources, programs and safe classrooms.
We are concerned about what the decision to waste valuable funding will mean for our students and the teachers and parents who work so diligently to support and educate them. Cutting down on resources, expanding classroom size and potentially eliminating positions due to budget cuts aren't the actions Baltimore and Marylanders need. We hope Governor Hogan understands that his political gamesmanship has real consequence for the children and families of Baltimore city. We know that the entire city of Baltimore will be watching — and we have a long memory.
Marietta English is president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. She can be reached at MEnglish@baltu.org.