On Friday evening, the Maryland House voted to pass a constitutional amendment that will see the voters decide how casino revenues will be used for schools in the state. State formulas currently set aside a certain portion of funds for education and this new amendment would see further funding provided. The amendment will be placed on the ballot this November.
Supporters of the measure state that Maryland school funding would increase by around $500m a year once it is fully phased in after a four-year time frame. The change would see all the casino funds go towards K-12 public education instead of redirecting monies for state budgetary needs.
The Washington Post reports that Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller stated: “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.”
According to Weller, the public schools in the state have fallen behind, dropping in the rankings and failing to be able to maintain teachers, while classrooms remain crowded. Educators are reportedly tired of feeling shortchanged based on what they expected would be provided by the state’s casino revenues.
Casino gambling was legalized in Maryland back in 2008 and soon after, the Education Trust Fund was formed. The fund was set to receive about 50% of the slots revenue and generally no more than 33% would be kept by the casino companies, with the remaining 18.5% directed to other programs in the state, according to cnsmaryland.org.
By 2012, a law was enacted by voters that allowed table games. The addition of roulette, poker and other table games would see the casinos keeping 80% of the new table game profits, while additionally reducing the share of slots money directed to the education fund.
When voters approved the measures in 2008 and 2012, they expected funds to be diverted to education, however, there was no legal requirement stating that the funds had to be spent that way. Considered a ‘lockbox’ bill, the new legislation is intended to stop future lawmakers and governors of the state from diverting casino funds to balance the budget.
According to the Maryland State Education Association, $1.9b in casino revenues have been diverted from public schools for other uses since the inception of the Education Trust Fund in 2009.