This morning, Senator Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery-District 18) joined ACLU of Maryland and the more than 72,000 educators of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) in calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to withhold $5 million set aside for private school vouchers as part of the FY2017 budget. Earlier this week, the governor claimed the state is facing declining revenues in deciding to withhold $25 million that had been set aside for public schools, yet did not decide to hold back funding reserved for private schools. The groups asked the governor to instead send the $5 million in taxpayer dollars to public schools to offset some of the damage from the cuts Gov. Hogan made earlier this week.
“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 Sen. Madaleno. “Budgets are about priorities, and it’s disappointing that the governor is choosing to siphon funding from public schools to help private schools.”
This is the second consecutive year that Gov. Hogan has decided to withhold school funding despite projected budget surpluses. Last year, he withheld $68 million passed in a bipartisan budget from thirteen counties that saw increased class sizes, eliminated educator positions, and cut programs. This year, he held back $25 million in funding that would have supported the maintenance of aging school facilities and helped counties pay for educator pensions without cutting funding levels for classroom instruction.
“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 MSEA 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.”
As a result of Gov. Hogan’s proposal to create a private school voucher program, a $5 million line-item in the budget was included to send taxpayer dollars to private schools. Advocates of the budget move argued that the funding would help students in “struggling” public schools leave for private sector options. However, the administration of that program so far shows that the vast majority of those who will receive vouchers already attend private schools: 79% of those applying and 71% of applicants who will receive vouchers attended private schools last year.
“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.”