Education Advocates, Democrats Urge State Budget Panel to Use Surplus on Schools

By Marissa Horn

ANNAPOLIS—Democratic lawmakers at a Maryland budget panel on Thursday urged representatives of Gov. Larry Hogan to use millions in unexpected state revenue to bolster supplemental schools funding.

Teachers’ unions and public education advocates sent a letter to Hogan Thursday morning asking for the release of $68 million for this year’s school funding.

At a meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Budget and Taxation committees Thursday afternoon, lawmakers discussed recommendations for the state to spend a recently announced windfall.

The Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates on Monday projected a $212.2 million increase in state revenue over the next two years, and Comptroller Peter Frachot announced earlier this month that the state’s general fund revenues in the last fiscal year, which ended in June, were $214.1 million over estimates.

While in office, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, fully funded the Geographic Cost of Education Index, a supplemental education budget, every year, but left the the state with a shortfall. Soon after taking office in January, as part of his first budget, Hogan proposed cutting entirely an expected $136 million in supplemental funding, which most public school systems had come to rely on.

By the end of spring’s session, Hogan agreed to budget $68 million for the fund, which the state’s teachers’ union and Democratic lawmakers said was not enough. Hogan had proposed a $150 million pension fund contribution, but lawmakers in April approved $75 million.

“We need those GCEI dollars,” said Delegate Carol Krimm, D-Frederick. “We have had to cut programs – some of the programs that were cut and are not coming back to Frederick were for tutoring for underachieving students. And that’s devastating.”

Hogan, a Republican, has pointed out that he budgeted a record amount of money for schools this fiscal year, and a spokeswoman said Thursday that funding the state’s pension system remained a priority.

“The state faces $18.7 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, following $625 million in cuts to pension contributions in the last few years,” said Erin Montgomery, the governor’s spokeswoman. “Governor Hogan remains committed to using the funds fenced off by the General Assembly to revive the pension system, while also providing a record $6.1 billion in education funding statewide.”

If Hogan approves the additional schools funding, also known as GCEI, the money would be directed at 13 of the state's 24 school districts where the cost of education is higher. Those 13 jurisdictions serve more than 80 percent of Maryland's students, according to the Maryland Department of Education.

“It certainly could be used throughout the state,” said Kate Rabb, education policy director at Advocates for Children and Youth in Baltimore. “There have been layoffs, class sizes may have grown and art programs may not be there anymore.”

The jurisdictions affected include Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Baltimore County, Carroll, Charles, Calvert, Frederick, Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Queen Anne’s and St. Mary’s.

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