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  March 22, 2018

How Long Will It Take for Casino Money to Reach Classrooms?

Hundreds of teachers, students and advocates descended on Annapolis to demand legislators increase funds to Maryland schools and make good on the promise to use casino revenue to supplement education funding
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JAISAL NOOR: I'm Jaisal Noor for The Real News Network. We're in Annapolis, Maryland where tonight, hundreds of teachers from around the state rallied to Fix the Fund. They say that Maryland is not fulfilling its constitutional guarantee to adequately fund all schools. The state studied the topic and found that Maryland needs to spend $2.9 billion to reach adequacy.

CARISSA BARNES: Because as an educator for six years, and as a special educator, I can see the impact of a small budget on my students. My students are typically, they cost more to educate, and often, they are the ones who are left behind.

MARJORY: I feel like schools are very underfunded. It impacts me as a student because I'm not able to perform at my best. You know, we are talking about not having enough resources in the classroom. Like I said, ESOL students don't have enough resources just because they are minorities, and just because they are seen as inferior. That doesn't mean that they don't need know the stuff that they should be.

JORGE CORDOBA: Because as an ESOL teacher, I teach in two schools, I teach 70 kids. I am underfunded, no resources, no nothing. It’s just me trying to do miracles every single day, and everything is wrong with this picture.

HOLLY NELSON: I know one of the schools that I've been working in a lot lately, they don't have the supplies they need to run the programs that they need to run. It's a Title I school, they need more resources than they have, and they just don't have enough teachers, enough support professionals to support the children adequately, and make the progress that they need to make.

ALVIN THORNTON: The most important part of the Maryland Constitution is Article 8! Article 8 is the education article, and it says that the first thing the state does before it does anything is to fund and educate the children of Maryland.

I chaired what is called the Thornton Commission Bridge to Excellence We had great pressure, we had hundreds, thousands of people here, which pressured the politicians to fund it. When there is a relaxation of people pressure, “Street Power,” I call it, politicians cave to depression or recessions, et cetera, and that’s what happened. And so, they started to cut the funds in response to the housing market. Bradford, the Bradford case coming out of Baltimore, the Vaughns case coming out of Prince George's County, the litigation drove Thornton, which is to close this gap, we’re going to have to do the same thing: feet on the ground, pressure from the people, to let politicians know we have your back if you don’t do right, and we’ll be against you and defeat you if you don’t do right.

BETTY WELLER: And we are here to rally to get our legislators to pass a bill that we believe will keep a promise to Maryland citizens, and that is to put a lockbox on casino money so that it is used for what it was promised to be used for, and that is public education, and that it will not be a method of supplanting general funds but a method of supplementing them.

It has a huge impact. It means we have trouble keeping, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. It means we have a lack of resources, it means we have heating and cooling problems in our buildings. We have no programs to address the needs of our students. We need more counselors, school psychologists, mental health people, the things that we need to meet the challenges of the students we have today, we don't have.

JAISAL NOOR: There's few competing measures when it comes to a casino. There is a measure that Maggie McIntosh is supporting that would that would phase it in, phase that funding over four years.

We were at the hearing for Mary Washington's proposal, which would not phase that money in. It would have an immediate increase of some $500 million by next year. And we heard from teachers that said our students can't wait. What do you what do you tell his teachers? Do you also support Mary Washington?

BETTY WELLER: We support fixing the fund. But we think the bill that we're supporting is a better bill because it would put it on referendum in the fall, which would mean you can't play political games with it. You can't put it in the budget or take it out of the budget. You can't say, “It's a law, we’ll change it.” It's a referendum, then it passes and that's a very secure funding source for our schools.

JAISAL NOOR: And so, we've heard this argument, and opponents say, “Well, the public already voted. They voted 10 years ago, and they were they were misled.” So, why should they have to vote again?

BETTY WELLER: Because apparently, they voted for something that wasn't quite as strong as a lockbox would be. And now, we have to keep the promise that was made to them a long time ago.

KEVIN KAMENETZ: Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore County executive running for governor, and I'm here to support education. We need to fully fund education, and that includes using casino money to supplement the existing pot, not to supplant it.

JAISAL NOOR: Do you support, at least trying to have that money, that $500 million go into education, going to the schools next year?

KEVIN KAMENETZ: Well, you know, the budgeting process is difficult because when you say you're going to take that money immediately, it has to come from somewhere. So, you have to do an analysis of where it's coming from, and that's why sometimes a phasing in is the most effective way of ensuring that no one's getting hurt by it. But the real issue is we have to increase the amount of funding that we have for, Marylanders have always prided themselves about our investment in education, and for years our public schools were number one. Now, we're just middle of the pack.

SPEAKER: I think the funding should go towards the schools immediately. I mean, obviously there are political realities, and sometimes you have to make compromises in order to get things done. So, I would support either proposal, but I would prefer that the funding be available immediately.

ALVIN THORNTON: Do the the the most aggressive one first and try that, if that doesn't work, then do the second best thing. So, it should be immediate. This is delayed funding, delayed by several years. So, you should do the immediate one. If you don't get support then you do the gradual phase in, but this gap comes as a result of the underfunding of Thornton, we need we need to fix it. I'm not a big gambling person. I don’t support gambling, but now that we have it, slots for tots. We need to make sure that we keep the promise to put that in a lockbox, and make sure those funds go to children now with no supplanting, which means you put the lottery money in the front door, and don't back out the back door.

JAISAL NOOR: Are you familiar with both proposals?

SPEAKER: I'm not. I'm not, but what I'm familiar with is, I know what was on the ballot. And I know what was promised to us. I'm familiar with that and I’m familiar with honesty, and the truth, and what we were promised is what we should get. That's what I'm familiar with.


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