April 21, 2015

Baltimore Sun: Local officials, teachers, Busch pressure Hogan to spend education cash

Public pressure mounted Tuesday on Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to release $68 million in school funding.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch,  top education advocates, prominent state Democrats  and some Republicans called an Annapolis press conference to implore Hogan to agree to spend cash the legislature set aside for the state’s 13 costliest school districts.

They warned that failing to spend the money would cause larger classrooms and teacher layoffs.

“That money is essential to the well-being of our education system,” Busch said. “We’re here today to ask the governor to take the obligation that was put in front of you by the General Assembly.”

The head of the state’s superintendents’ association, Stephen H. Guthrie of Carroll County, said school systems could not absorb the cuts without losing employees. And the man who helped design the state’s entire school funding system, Alvin Thornton, said that although spending the money was technically up to Hogan’s discretion, the fact it has been paid out every year for the past seven has made it an integral part of the success of Maryland schools.

“That has been shown to be working,” he said.

The public campaign to persuade to Hogan to spend more on schools comes after a legislative session that adjourned in acrimony last week over a budget fight.

Hogan said in a brief interview Monday that he has not made a decision on the school funding nor the rest of the $200 million at center of the rift between the governor and the legislature.

“It’s only been a week since the legislature ended,” Hogan said.  “We’ve got a hundred people weighing in on what they did, and we’re going to make the best decision we can on behalf of the taxpayers.”

The General Assembly set aside $200 million for schools, employee pay raises and health care initiatives, but Hogan has described that move as fiscally irresponsible and said it robbed the state pension system of $75 million it needs.

When first asked whether he would spend the money as intended by lawmakers, Hogan answered “Nope.” Two days later, in the final hours of the legislative session, the governor said it  “very unlikely,” and the next morning told reporters his administration would “see how much money we have to spend on what.”

County leaders say the governor is running out of time.

The president of the Maryland Association of Counties, Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett, a Democrat, said Hogan must make his decision soon because county governments are building their budgets and 13 school districts are now facing cuts.

The association sent Hogan a letter Monday signed by three Republicans and three Democrats, telling him the money may technically be discretionary but has become a crucial component of state support for schools.

“For the thirteen jurisdictions with … funds still pending, the state would be casting a cloud of uncertainty over their own budgeting priorities, with enormous pressure on local tax rates,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by Leggett, Republicans Cecil County Executive Tari Moore, Washington County Commissioner John Barr,  Anne Arundel County Council Chair Jerry Walker and Democrats Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

The state’s teacher’s union said it has patched through 30 calls a day to the governor’s office asking him to release the money.

The coalition trying to convince Hogan to spend the money has co-opted his campaign logo and replaced his slogan “Change Maryland,” with the phrase “Don’t Shortchange Maryland.”

Hogan can choose not to spend it schools, but he also can not spend it on anything else.

Hogan’s staff also says that they have given schools $109 million more than last year  and contest the suggestion the governor underfunded education.  Also on Tuesday, Hogan directed a group known as the “Children’s Cabinet” to undertake two new initiatives to help children whose parents are incarcerated.

 Originally posted on The Baltimore Sun, available here.