Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Gambling on Good Schools

Gambling on Good Schools

Fact:  Maryland is the wealthiest state in the nation based on typical household income. ($75,847)  Fact: Marylanders were sold on the concept of casinos and gambling in Maryland because the money was going to go into the Education Trust Fund.  Fact: In the last seven years, income from gambling has pumped 1.7 billion dollars into the Education Trust Fund.  Fact: Maryland was ranked #1 in the nation in the quality of its schools for several years in a row.  Now it is #5.  Still pretty good.  Fact: Maryland does the best job in the country of even funding of education throughout the state.  At least it did up until a couple of years ago.

Now for the rest of the story.  While it is very true that 1.7 billion dollars have gone into education from the gambling enterprises, it is also true that this money has been used to supplant the state money that used to go into education.  That money has gone into salaries, roadwork and to support other government services.  So even though a lot of money is coming in, a similar amount is going out the other end and not to schools.   Sort of like a funnel.  In fact, Baltimore City, one of the most strapped districts in the state, has actually received less money, not more, and it stands to lose another 42 million under the Governor’s latest FY 18 budget.  And it has the Horseshoe casino right downtown. 

One of the reasons Maryland has received credit in the past for having the most equitable spending is that Maryland has had an adjustment fund in addition to the mandated maintenance of effort funding required by law.  This additional fund gave extra money to school districts such as Montgomery County that has a very high cost of living.  It also gave supplementary funds to the poorer school districts to help them to compensate for lower local revenues.  Last year, even though the State Legislature found the money to fund this compensatory fund, the Governor refused to allocate the funds.   For the FY18 budget there are no monies appropriated for this fund. 

The law that allowed the casinos required the profits to go toward school funding BUT that law did NOT require that the funds would need to increase state funding for education.  And indeed, the profits have not.  Instead the money has been used to supplant funding.   Because the school state funding mandate requires the Governor to allocate more money to schools each year, he can assert that his budget has allocated more money than every other governor.  That will be true next year and the year after that, regardless of who is governor unless the Legislature changes the law, which is not likely.  

The casinos can continue to advertise that the profits from casino gambling are pumping millions of dollars into state education.  This is true.  Not the casinos fault that the Governor is using those funds to take the place of State funds, leaving schools no better off.   In fact, in 2011, before gambling, Maryland spent $31 billion, 21% of its overall budget.  Today with gambling, the State spends just 18% of its budget on education.

Maryland is the wealthiest state in the union.  Why does it need to play a shell game and gamble with our kids’ education?

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