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Legislative Black Caucus members call Hogan budget unacceptable

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday called Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed cuts to local education aid unacceptable, saying they could lead to more than 1,000 teacher layoffs across the state.

Leaders of the 46-member caucus held a news conference to criticize the cuts after meeting behind closed doors to discuss the Republican governor's budget plan.

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Lawmakers said the budget would have a disproportionately harsh impact on Baltimore city and Prince George's County, Maryland's two African-American majority jurisdictions.

The caucus chairwoman, Democratic Del. Barbara Robinson of Baltimore, said  the cuts would cost the city education system an average of $100,000 per school.

Dels. Curt Anderson and Jay Walker, the chairmen of the Baltimore city and Prince George's House delegations, released a letter they wrote to Hogan requesting a meeting to discuss the proposed cuts in education aid. The two, both Democrats, expressed support for Hogan's effort to eliminate the state's long-term revenue shortfall, but said his cuts place an unnecessary burden on children and working families.

The caucus stopped short of taking a position against the budget.

"It's not an or-else situation, but we want to let him know how concerned we are," Anderson said.

But Del. Nathaniel Oaks, another Baltimore Democrat, said the caucus' dissatisfaction could reach a point of outright opposition.

"If it comes to a point where we have to use the leverage of a vote for or against, that's a point we have to look at very carefully," Oaks said.

Erin Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor's budget provides more money per student to Baltimore than any jurisdiction in the state and gives Prince George's an overall $35 million increase in local aid.

"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," Montgomery said. "Guaranteeing that Maryland's education system remains one of the best in the country requires all us working together as one team, and the governor looks forward to sitting down and finding ways to accomplish these shared goals."

The Baltimore school system faces a potential decline of $35 million -- or 3.9 percent -- in state school aid. The cuts are mostly the result of higher property tax assessments, which count against it in Maryland's formula for distributing school aid, and the governor's decision to cut in half the funding of a geographical index that compensates jurisdictions with a higher cost of educating children.

Prince George's is slated for a 2.9 percent increase in overall funding but will lose more than any other jurisdiction -- almost $20 million -- from the decision to cut the geographical index funding. Baltimore would lose more than $11 million as a result of the index cut.

Lawmakers pointed to estimates by the Maryland State Education Association, the teacher's union, that the Hogan budget could result in the layoffs of 400 teachers in Baltimore, 600 in Prince George's and hundreds more statewide.

The caucus members' concerns were not limited to education. African-American lawmakers also expressed objections to cuts to the Medicaid budget and a proposed pay reduction for state employees.

The governor took office last week facing a $750 million revenue shortfall in next year's budget.

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Education aid to Maryland jurisdictions varies by such factors as the wealth of residents and the percentage of students whose first language is not English. Baltimore is slated to receive $11,892 per student next year -- the most in Maryland -- compared with a statewide average of $7,194. Prince George's would receive $9,328 per pupil.

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