Do you remember “Slots for Tots?” It was a promise that Maryland children would reap the benefits of legalized gambling through revenues streaming into our public schools. And yet, in recent years, our schools have repeatedly seen decreased funding, even as casino profits soar.
It cannot stand. That’s why I have drafted and will file the “Restoring the Trust in Our Education Trust Fund” bill in this upcoming session. This bill would ensure that the funding generated from casinos will be required, as originally promised, to increase funding for our public schools—not simply to replace funds taken from previously established pipelines, but in addition to them.
So why now? How did we get here?
When Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing casino-style slot machines in the 2008 general election (and then the expansion to table games in 2012), they did so in good faith, believing that the money generated by gambling would flow into our public schools, particularly in our poorest districts. In the years since, casinos have poured more than $1.7 billion into Maryland’s Education Trust Fund. Yet our schools have not benefited from the windfall. Nowhere does this disparity reveal itself more clearly than in Baltimore City, where public schools have received less money each year instead of more—despite the $200 million generated by the Horseshoe Casino.
Unfortunately, even as the state put casino money toward education, it decreased funding from other sources, ultimately providing our schools with even less than they had pre-gambling. Meanwhile, much of the money generated by casinos has instead gone to line items unrelated to education, a problem our legislature is long overdue in solving.
And so today we have a broken promise, bringing with it broken dreams of schools that would defeat socioeconomic inequities by providing high-quality education to children for whom public schooling isn’t just ONE option—it’s the ONLY option. The cost of that broken promise has been paid by those same schools and those same children.
For years, Maryland public schools ranked 1st in the nation on Education Week’s annual ranking of public systems across the nation—a statistic that state legislators and business developers routinely cited with pride in attempts to attract investors and growth. That ranking was indeed something to be proud of.
But it didn’t last: Schools across the state, particularly in Baltimore City, have seen increasingly reduced funding. In turn, our school system has dropped from #1 to #5 over the last four years. Most striking are the below average grades for the wide gaps in achievement between low-income students and their more affluent peers. On that measure alone the state ranked 42nd in the nation.
With this in mind, we passed a bill in 2016 creating the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, led by William E. “Brit” Kirwan, former chancellor of the University System of Maryland. Eventually dubbed the Kirwan Commission, this group of assorted education stakeholders was tasked with reviewing and assessing current education financing formulas and accountability, along with reviewing local school district spending. The Kirwan Commission was supposed to release a report detailing its assessment and recommendations to the General Assembly by the end of 2017. Unfortunately, the commission has announced it must delay releasing that report to ensure the findings and recommendations contained within are both fiscally realistic and in the best interest of our public school system.
Delaying the Kirwan Report until the second quarter of 2018 means there will likely be too little time in the upcoming General Assembly session to act on the report’s recommendations. Regardless, even as we await those recommendations, something must—and can—be done.
The Funding Adequacy Report presented to the Kirwan Commission estimates that the state must spend an additional $2.9 billion if we ever hope to reclaim our #1 status. Improving education funding is a problem we can address today, so that when we do have those recommendations in hand, we can be financially prepared to act. And we can start by making sure the money generated by casinos goes to fulfill the promise made to Maryland’s children: better funding for better education.
That’s why I am proposing this legislation and why I hope you and others stand behind it, too. It’s time to make good on our legislature’s word. It’s time to “Restore the Trust in Our Education Trust Fund.”
Mary Washington, 43rd District