A story, a casino lock­box and $4.4 bil­lion more for schools

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - — Luke Broad­wa­ter

We were at the old Bal­ti­more Sun of­fices on Calvert Street in early 2017 when then-Sun ed­u­ca­tion re­porter Erica L. Green yelled across the desk: “Where’s that casino money?”

It was a peren­nial ques­tion for those of us who closely fol­low school fund­ing is­sues, but par­ents and teach­ers were ask­ing it more fre­quently as Bal­ti­more city schools were fac­ing a huge $130 mil­lion fund­ing gap.

So, we down­loaded eight years of state bud­get doc­u­ments and started to dig into the num­bers.

While the casino money was, in­deed, be­ing used to fund ed­u­ca­tion, it was largely sup­plant­ing ex­ist­ing fund­ing streams, not adding to them.

Since casi­nos be­gan pump­ing out cash for schools in 2010, the state of Mary­land had low­ered the per­cent­age of the gen­eral fund ded­i­cated to pub­lic schools. The state was now spend­ing just 18 per­cent of its gen­eral fund on pub­lic K-12 ed­u­ca­tion — down from 21 per­cent be­fore the casi­nos opened.

Con­tacted about the mat­ter, Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s spokesman Doug Mayer said no one had ever raised the is­sue with the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

We pub­lished our story, which re­newed de­bate over the topic.

By the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike were push­ing var­i­ous bills to add the money to school spend­ing. Ad­vo­cates, in­clud­ing the state’s influential teach­ers’ union, pushed for re­form.

Ho­gan pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a “lock­box” to en­sure the casino money was added to ex­ist­ing funds, which would in­crease state spend­ing on pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion by $4.4 bil­lion over the next decade.

Democrats pro­posed a dif­fer­ent route to roughly the same end, call­ing for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to use the casino money to in­crease ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing beyond the lev­els re­quired by a state for­mula.

The lock­box amend­ment called for a phase-in pe­riod and re­quired that the casino rev­enue be added to other re­quired ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing by July 1, 2022. The rev­enue is pro­jected to be about $517 mil­lion a year by then.

The amend­ment proved wildly pop­u­lar among Mary­land vot­ers.

In Novem­ber, nearly 90 per­cent backed it at the bal­lot box, en­shrin­ing the pol­icy in the Mary­land Con­sti­tu­tion.

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