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The Baltimore County executive and Maryland gubernatorial candidate says he supports increasing education spending and universal pre-K, but does not support immediately shifting casino revenue to schools

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TITLE CARD: On March 19, 2018, hundreds of teachers and their supporters rallied in Annapolis, Maryland to demand increased funding for schools.

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

TITLE CARD: In attendance was Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is running to be Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland.

KEVIN KAMENETZ: I’m 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: There’s a few different proposals right now. There’s one by Maggie McIntosh that would require another vote on the ballot in November. And supporters say that would secure that money, that casino money, into education funding. Other people say that the downside with that is that it phases in funding over four years, that increased funding. And they say teachers and students can’t wait. Do you support at least trying to have that money, that $500 million, go into education, go into 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. 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. And for one of the wealthiest states in the nation, we have the eighth worst in the country with the achievement gap. So we clearly have to fund more than the bare minimum, which is what Larry Hogan’s been doing these last four years, and we have to make specific commitments that eliminate the disparities between the haves and the have-nots. That’s what extra money’s going to do.

JAISAL NOOR: So Larry Hogan says schools in Maryland don’t face a crisis of funding, they face a crisis of accountability. What’s your, I mean, there’s been some high-profile scandals in Baltimore County, in other jurisdictions. What’s your response to Larry Hogan?

KEVIN KAMENETZ: Well, we’ve had no scandals in Baltimore County associated with our budget. And in fact, we have record investment in school construction in Baltimore County, where we’re spending $1.3 billion to build or rebuild 90 schools. But we’re also doing great things in the classroom. And that means with rising graduation rates that exceed the state average, approaching 90%, and importantly in our majority minority school district in Baltimore County there is no disparity in the graduation rates between black and white students. The issue is all about funding priorities. We’ve made it a priority in Baltimore County to fully fund education and target specific programs that get real results. Larry Hogan just dances this dance, and the result is the national rankings were slipping tremendously under his watch. He owns that record. I’m going to fix it.

JAISAL NOOR: You talked about Baltimore County. If you’re elected governor, what would you do for jurisdictions that don’t have that extra tax revenue like Baltimore City? What would you do to help boost achievement in the poorer jurisdictions?

KEVIN KAMENETZ: Let me just clarify. When I say eliminate the disparities between the have and have-nots, it’s identifying better funding formulas so that we can reach specific school programs that have the greatest impact. For example, I would bring universal pre-K to every three and four year old, particularly in underperforming districts. I want you to think about this. We have toddlers who aren’t getting that academic enrichment at home, and they come to school unprepared, and they’re always behind grade level. So if we brought universal pre-K in those school districts, then we can prevent the achievement gap before it even starts. That’s the wiser way to invest money to get actual results.

JAISAL NOOR: And that’s been widely supported, including by the Kirwin commission. So a lot of people are trying to get behind that.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.