A state senator has joined with the ACLU of Maryland and the state’s largest teachers union in calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to withhold $5 million set aside for private school vouchers in the wake of his decision not to spend $25 million in public school-related expenses.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery and vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said the $5 million should instead go toward public schools.
“If the state of Maryland cannot afford to spend taxpayer dollars on fixing aging school buildings and preventing class size increases, we certainly cannot afford to help subsidize tuition for those who are already enrolled in private schools,” said Madaleno. “Budgets are about priorities, and it’s disappointing that the governor is choosing to siphon funding from public schools to help private schools.”
David Brinkley, Hogan’s budget secretary, announced Wednesday that the governor would not release $80 million in funds fenced off by the legislature. Within that pot are about $19 million for aid to local governments for teacher pensions and another $6 million for school renovations.
A spokesman for Hogan noted that the legislature took money from the aging schools program that was already in the budget and moved it into the $80 million fenced off from the fund meant to help the state offset severe economic declines.
“Governor Hogan has provided record funding for public K-12 education in each of his two budgets and will continue to make it a priority moving forward. If Senator Madaleno is upset with legislation that both Senate President [Thomas V. Mike] Miller and House Speaker [Michael E.] Busch both supported and voted for, along with many of his fellow colleagues, we suggest that he call them instead of sending misleading press releases. Ultimately, this is only an issue because Senator Madaleno, as he publicly admitted, decided to play budgetary political games with taxpayer dollars.”
Madaleno, in a June interview in The Daily Record, acknowledged that the legislature was attempting to push Hogan to spend the money by fencing it off and requiring that all of it be released if any of it was to be spent.
“We decided the prudent course of action was to fund the priorities [Hogan] ignored and provide this pre-authorized way to spend the surplus from the rainy day fund to pay for some other items,” Madaleno said. “Last year he cherry-picked items from what the legislature fenced off. We decided this year it was all or nothing.”
Brinkley and the governor at times have cited a flattening of the economy as well as objections to the legislature using $80 million from the state’s rainy day fund as reasons to object to the expenditures.
“We’re disappointed that the governor is more concerned with winning a political argument with Democrats in the legislature than focusing on ways to improve our public schools,” said Maryland State Education Association Vice President Cheryl Bost. “It’s yet another year of schools trying to do more for students with less help from the state than they expected.”
Opponents of the voucher program say the money will mostly go to students already attending private schools and not students seeking to escape under-performing schools.
“This is a poorly veiled way of subsidizing private schools,” said Bebe Verdery, Education Reform Director for ACLU of Maryland. “The truth is, this money would go a lot further to help low-income students if it was spent in our taxpayer-funded public school system to improve dilapidated buildings and support student programs.”