By Jordan Nowaskey
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Question One on Maryland’s Nov. 6 midterm election ballot seeks to use casino revenue to close a $2.9 billion funding gap for underfunded state public schools.
Known as the “lockbox” initiative, the proposal promises voters that casino revenue will go directly to K-12 education funding and improvements to state public school facilities. Currently, casino revenue is placed in the Education Trust Fund but then shifted to other areas of the state budget.
“The ‘lockbox’ proposal fixes a flawed bill that was passed under the previous administration,” said Shareese Churchill, press secretary for Gov. Larry Hogan.
“Maryland voters approved slot machine gambling in 2008 based on a pledge from the legislature that the new revenues generated would supplement existing funding,” Churchill explained to The Baltimore Watchdog. “However, the legislation that was enacted allowed for the new revenues to simply supplant existing funding.”
Ten years ago, 58 percent of Maryland voters approved casino gaming under the impression that money collected from slot machines, poker and black-jack tables and other games would be used to pay for education. While casino revenues did enter the Education Trust Fund as promised, officials said that the money merely replaced funds targeted for schools in the state budget. And, some of those extra funds went to non-educational areas.
How did this happen? Critics said politicians misconstrued the distribution of the money, causing the education budget to lose more than $1 billion of intended funding.
When Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was in office from 2007 to 2015, $500 million out of the $600 million put into the Education Trust Fund was redirected, officials said. And, under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, $1.4 billion out of the $1.8 billion put into the Trust Fund was diverted to other parts of the budget.
Now Maryland residents, teachers, school administrators and families have voiced concern, asking “if or when” education will finally receive the funding that’s been promised.
“What happened after 2008 is what we are solving in Question One,” said Sean Johnson of the Maryland State Education Association.
“Question One is fixing this broken promise and making sure that the Education Trust Fund money is new spending each year and that it supplements, not supplants, state aid to education,” explained Johnson, assistant executive director of Political and Legislative Affairs for MSEA.
The government ensured that Question One amends the State Constitution in requiring explicit usage of casino revenue and the Education Trust Fund towards increasing the level of public school funding. The first 20 percent of casino revenue will be immediately dedicated to school construction, adding an additional $1 billion over the next decade.
Hogan’s Commitment to Education Act of 2018 also would implement increased education spending by $4.4 billion over the next 10 years, as well, said Churchill.
MSEA President Cheryl Bost, a Baltimore County teacher, said she is excited about the amendment.
“Voting yes on Question One won’t just add $500 million in needed funding to our public schools, it will also keep a promise to voters,” said Bost. “When Marylanders voted to expand casinos, we thought that money would go to increasing school funding. It simply hasn’t happened, and it’s time to make that right.”