Dueling Proposals to Ensure Casino Money Goes to Classrooms

The Real News examines the debate around Baltimore school funding and looks at two bills that would put casino revenue into a ‘lock box’ for education

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: Everyone in Maryland’s capital agrees, Baltimore’s schools need to do better. But there are vastly different opinions on precisely what needs to be one. Advocates say city schools are chronically underfunded.

MAGGIE McINTOSH: Baltimore City Schools suffers from historic neglect.

MARY WASHINGTON: Under our constitution, we are required to provide an adequate public education system.

JAISAL NOOR: And indeed the city contributes less to its school budget than other jurisdictions. Meanwhile, Republican Governor Larry Hogan, aided by reporting from the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting Group, have been pushing a narrative, the funding problem is really the result of waste and fraud.

LARRY HOGAN: We simply cannot allow children to be punished, year after year, because their adult leaders are failing.

JAISAL NOOR: To make that case, Project Baltimore correctly cites the district’s per-pupil funding, but in a totally misleading way.

CHRIS PAPST: Baltimore City Schools spend about $16,000 per student every year–the fourth highest in the nation.

JAISAL NOOR: Which are repeated by Governor Hogan.

LARRY HOGAN: Baltimore City Schools funding is the fourth highest per pupil funding of all of the 13,500 schools systems in America.

JAISAL NOOR: Then Hogan’s comments are picked up by Project Baltimore and aired on Sinclair affiliate, FOX 45.

CHRIS PAPST: The governor went on to say the problem is not with funding. He says there’s enough funding. He says there’s not enough accountability.

JAISAL NOOR: And sometimes even cited by the public.

D. RHEUBOTTOM: We get more money per student than almost anybody in the country.

JAISAL NOOR: The website Politifact fact-checked an almost identical claim made on Fox News in 2015. They found it only half true and missing important context. Baltimore is the 2600th highest funded school district in the country. It’s only fourth highest among the biggest 100 school systems, but the narrative put forth by Hogan and Project Baltimore dismissed the state’s own studies that have found Baltimore schools need hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional funding to reach adequacy. This isn’t to say there aren’t lots of critics of the school system. At just about every school board meeting, students and advocates demand the schools do better.

KIM TRUEHEART: We want the funding in the classrooms, and if we’re not striving to that, then I got a problem.

RAYSHON MOORE: … But we also would like to see culturally appropriate things about our culture, as people of color, in our books. We would like to learn more about us.

JAISAL NOOR: An emerging debate over casino proceeds has found a way to address that. A recent report found that gambling profits, pledged to fund schools, never materialized, and Baltimore’s casino has sent more money to other jurisdictions than its own school system, which is why two legislators are proposing changes to the way casino money is allocated. Delegate Mary Washington and Maggie McIntosh sat down with us to discuss their ideas.

McIntosh is chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Her bill would let voters decide on this year’s ballot. Additional funding to education would be phased in over four years. This plan is supported by Democratic leadership and the Maryland State Educators Association.

MAGGIE McINTOSH: My bill actually takes this to the voters of Maryland, which is where the fund was originated, and says to the voters: Do you want us to lock this box?

JAISAL NOOR: Meanwhile, Washington’s proposal would create a new law to restore the funding by next year. It is backed by the B-more Caucus of Baltimore School teachers.

MARY WASHINGTON: This legislation would take effect now. It’s not requiring the voters to vote on something that they already voted. They voted, we voted in referendum in 2008 to use gaming dollars to increase school funding. Then we voted again in 2012, so I don’t think we need to, we don’t need to ask the voters again if they want to prioritize public education.

JAISAL NOOR: At a recent school board meeting, Corey Gaber, a Steering Committee member of the B-more Caucus and public school teacher, testified that students can’t wait.

COREY GABER: Then they’re asking for a multi-year phase in, which is literally the definition of justice delayed, and our kids do not need any more delayed justice. They need justice now.

JAISAL NOOR: What’s your response to that? Why phase it in?

M. MCCINTOSH: Right. The reason I had it phased in, quite frankly, is if we do it right now, we take half a billion dollars away from something else, like healthcare, like public safety.

JAISAL NOOR: How do you respond to that?

MARY WASHINGTON: Well so far, we are giving $20 million a year in tax credit to Northrop Grumman. We’re giving tons of tax credits to lots of corporations. If anyone who makes that critique, if they would sincerely look at these tax cuts and some of these programs and incentives and we reduce those, those are sources of revenue.

M. McINTOSH: And the really important part is, that I think my bill acknowledges, is we establish this fund at the ballot box with the voters. Only the voters can put that lockbox on there. If I just pass a bill that says this money ought to be an enhancement, the governor can take that away the next year.

MARY WASHINGTON: That’s not true. I worked with the analysts. I worked with bill drafters, and by referencing specific things in the code, we are able to, by legislative intent and law, require certain things to happen.

JAISAL NOOR: Both proposals will be considered in Annapolis in the upcoming months. McIntosh and Washington agree it’s going to take more than just additional casino money to transform Baltimore schools. Lawrence Grandpre, policy director of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, argues that increased accountability to the community must also be part of the conversation.

L. GRANDPRE: You need to have a vision of accountability, but to the community, in terms of actually producing a framework for educational results that the community finds sufficient, which may include curriculum. It may include incorporating local community based organizations into schools. It may include diversity of programming. That typically isn’t talked about in the funding debates. They talk a lot about iPads and air conditioning and those things are good, but when you’re looking at results in a way that actually meets what the community is talking about, the actual parents and the majority/minority and 80-90 percent of people in Baltimore Public Schools are African American, their conversation is a bit different than what the advocates and politicians are talking about, and I think that that needs to be a central part of the conversation.

JAISAL NOOR: We’ll keep following this story at therealnews.com and link to our additional coverage of Maryland’s public education system in the comments below. This is Jaisal Noor.