Surrogates for Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee for Maryland governor, say Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is deliberately misleading voters on the costs of expanding early childhood education as a campaign scare tactic.
Democrats on the teleconference criticized the Republican after a spokesman for Hogan’s campaign told a television station Friday that Jealous would have to raise taxes $1.2 billion to cover the cost of pre-K education.
Jealous did not participate in a Monday teleconference call with reporters organized by the Maryland Democratic Party. Surrogates defended their candidate’s call for early childhood education, saying it would cost $900 million less than costs stated by Hogan.
Kathleen Matthews, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, called Hogan’s claims of an impending billion-dollar tax increase “totally unfounded.”
“There’s not a single study out there that shows this would be the price tag for universal pre-K in Maryland,” Matthews said.
The costs, however, from both Hogan and Democrats come from the same two-year old report and are based on varying assumptions of what an expanded program would include.
Others were more pointed in their criticism of Hogan.
Sen. William “Bill” Ferguson said, “$1.2 billion for universal, high quality pre-K, it’s either intentionally misleading or grossly uninformed. Those are kind of the only two options. No matter what, the assertion that the total dollar amount of $1.2 billion is inappropriate and it’s wrong.”
The implementation of universal childhood education is a key component of the Jealous campaign and a signature issue for many legislative Democrats.
The term, however, can mean many things. The associated costs change as policymakers review options.
Advocates say expanded early education options offer many benefits, including improving education outcomes for low-income students and lowering crime.
The issue increasingly has become the focus of progressive Democrats nationally who champion expanded early childhood education as a way to subsidize day care for working families. The Washington City Council is currently considering a bill called “Birth to three for all of D.C.,” that would expand an existing child care and early education program.
Currently, the Kirwan Commission is examining the subject as it prepares a final recommendations on how to improve the state’s public education system. It’s the first major overhaul of education and how the state funds it since the enactment of the $1.3 billion Thornton education formula.
Matthews told reporters the call was meant to provide “hard evidence” that costs associated with what she said was Jealous’ plan to expand early childhood education could be covered by the sale of recreational marijuana — which the legislature has yet to take up.
Jealous, in remarks to the Maryland State Education Association in October, said he favors “full-day universal pre-K and ideally universal three-K” for 4- and 3-year-old children, respectively.
The union endorsed Jealous.
Jealous has not said if those plans included compulsory schooling, means-testing — where some families would be asked to pay part of the costs on a sliding scale based on income — or other options that change the costs.
The plan Jealous surrogates pointed to Monday include a range of participation of between 60 and 80 percent of 4-year-old children at a cost of between $138 million and $224 million. The plan would be paid for with an estimated $378 million in taxes from the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana for adults over 18 and older. The proposal also calls for local jurisdictions to pay about 49 percent of the costs. Those expenditures would be on top of the state’s share.
Jealous, speaking to a gathering of the Fraternal Order of Police in Garrett County Monday, spoke about legalizing marijuana for recreational uses. In his remarks, he said legalizing recreational marijuana would take money out of the hands of drug dealers “putting it in the pockets of farmers and businesses and … in our treasury so we can invest more in drug counseling.”
Steven Hershkowitz, a spokesman for the Jealous campaign, said Jealous intends to fund education first.
“Ben’s plan is to dedicate marijuana revenue to cover universal pre-K costs for 4-year-olds,” said Hershkowitz in an email. “If there is additional marijuana-based revenue after implementing universal pre-kindergarten, then drug counseling is an option for where that funding could go. ”
Doug Mayer, a Hogan campaign spokesman, said the governor supports an expansion of pre-K education.
“It’s about the cost,” said Mayer.
“Governor Hogan supports efforts to expand pre-K, but what he doesn’t support is being dishonest with Marylanders about the cost, and according to state consultants it will cost at least $1.3 billion per year,” said Mayer. “Unless Ben Jealous plans to have every man and women over the age of 18 stoned 24 hours a day, then he is going to need to raise other taxes.”
The projected cost comes from a 2016 version of a report prepared for the Kirwan Commission. The range of $1 billion to $1.3 billion covers 3- and 4 year-old children based on a participation range of 60-80 percent.
The Maryland Association of Counties used the same costs repeated by Hogan in that group’s July 19 podcast on the subject.
“The idea that Maryland is going to do universal pre-K does not end the conversation,” Michael Sanderson, executive director of the association, said on the podcast. “That starts the conversation that rabidly branches out in a bunch of directions.”