TOWSON, Md. — Education advocates pushed a simple message Thursday to Maryland voters: lock casino revenue for public education.
Retired and current educators stood outside Loch Raven High School in Towson to begin a statewide campaign on “Question 1,” which voters will see on the Nov. 6 ballot to approve a constitutional amendment to ensure at least $500 million annually would go into the education trust fund from the state’s six casinos.
“If Maryland does not have high-quality, equitably- and adequately-funded education, it cannot be competitive nationally, regionally and internationally,” said Alvin Thornton, former chairman of the Prince George’s County school board. “That money should be in a box locked for our children. It is morally wrong to do anything different.”
Thornton, who helped create a state formula in 2002 to ensure children statewide received adequate funding not based on a zip code, stood next to a huge sign that promotes overwhelming support for this year’s initiative.
According to a summary of a poll released by D.C.-based GBA Strategies, about 80 of Marylanders would vote in support of a constitutional amendment that requires an increase in gaming revenue toward public education. The sign also highlighted the “Fix the Fund” amendment receives overwhelming, bipartisan support.
Although lawmakers passed legislation for casino revenue to go toward education, the money was redirected to fill other budgetary items.
The Maryland General Assembly approved the “lockbox” legislation in this year’s session as a constitutional amendment, but required it to be placed on a referendum.
Advocates produced a graphic from the state Department of Legislative Services to highlight how during Gov. Larry Hogan’s first four fiscal years in office, casino revenues exceeded at least $402 million. However, the amount in state increases for public schools reached just $139 million this fiscal year.
“It doesn’t ask you to be liberal or conservative,” said Kenya Campbell, a teacher in Baltimore City and member of the city’s teacher’s union. “It simply asks that you want the best for the students of Maryland, and you want legislators to be held to their word that gaming revenues supplement education in our state.”
A few students from a Baltimore City public school stood with educators and held “Vote Yes on Question 1: Fix the Fund” signs.
Senior Luca Schmidt, 17, said the money could be used to ensure a school’s heating system keeps classrooms warm.
“We had at least one classroom in the winter with no heat — we had to sit in there with coats on,” she said. “Education is so important and so vital and it needs to be respected.”
Although a poll suggests voters may approve the ballot question in November, advocates said a report from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education remains an integral part to improve public education.
The group — also known as the Kirwan Commission led by William Kirwan, former University of Maryland System chancellor —has offered recommendations such as full-day prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, increasing salaries to retain and attract top-quality educators and possibly using state money to implement advanced academic programs such as International Baccalaureate into schools that don’t have them.
After a final report is completed, state lawmakers will review it and discuss whether to implement any of the recommendations. It’s estimated to cost at least $2 billion to boost the state’s education system.
“We will tell the politicians, ‘We got your back, just do the right thing,’” Thornton said after the press conference. “If not, we have to make sure we are out in full force.”