Maryland lawmakers voted Friday to give voters the option to direct all of the state’s casino profits to K-12 public education, instead of reserving some of them to balance the budget.
The state’s principal teachers’ union, the Maryland State Education Association, reported that Maryland has appropriated a total of nearly $2 billion in casino funds to budget balancing and away from education since 2009, reported The Washington Post. The “lockbox” law would inhibit future Maryland lawmakers and governors from using any casino funds to balance the budget.
The House of Delegates passed the legislation after receiving a unanimous approval from the state Senate.
If enacted, the measure would incrementally increase the proportion of casino funds directed to education until fiscal year 2023, when all of the funds would be allocated there.
“We applaud the General Assembly for taking the first step in making a new Maryland Promise to every family, in every community, that the state will fund a strong public school for their children,” Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller said.
Unauthorized pay hikes and grade inflation scandals racked Prince George’s County in 2018. However, U.S. News & World Report ranked Maryland’s public high schools number one in the nation for 2017, with its schools receiving a greater percentage of gold and silver medals for college preparation than schools in any other state.
Maryland public schools have fallen in rankings, failed to retain teachers and experienced crowded classrooms, Weller insists.
“Educators will not accept this shortchanging of education any longer,” she said.
When Maryland legalized casino gambling and established the Education Trust Fund in 2008, the state’s schools received approximately 50 percent of casino profits and the casinos obtained around 33 percent, with the remaining amount split among other state programs. A 2012 law supported by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and enacted by voters reduced the proportion of profits directed to education while also granting the casinos permission to install table games like craps, poker, and roulette and keep 80 percent of those games’ profits. These provisions led to casinos keeping most of the profits.
Maryland casino revenue increased 6.1 percent from February 2017 to February 2018.
Casino funds may be earmarked for education, yet that does not mean they will necessarily be used for that purpose, according to WaPo. This is because Maryland budget revenue is fungible, which means lawmakers can swap it out to support other initiatives.
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