What’s Next for Education Funding?

Governor, Pandemic Threaten Education Funding

Educators know that this is the session when we must be prepared to fight to override Gov. Hogan’s shortsighted vetoes of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and other legislation tied to millions in school funding this year and in the future. Overriding those vetoes will help Maryland set the right course for the future, but this session will also require us to defend against deep cuts to our schools in the short-term, in the middle of a pandemic when resources are needed more than ever.

The potential cuts could come on a variety of fronts. Legislators must reject the $233 million in mid-year cuts Hogan promised over the summer that he would bring to the 2021 session for the current budget. Educators and education advocates are also concerned that unexpected declines in enrollment due to the pandemic will negatively impact the school funding formula, which is based in large part on enrollment counts. We’ll need to fight for any potential funding cuts to be mitigated and, at worst, for districts to be held harmless from temporary enrollment changes that will rebound once the pandemic ends.

While all this is going on in Annapolis, we must keep the pressure on the federal government to pass legislation to send billions of dollars for coronavirus relief to states. This relief is critical and could make it much easier to solve outstanding questions on the state budget this year and in the out years. With session beginning on January 13, the voices of educators will need to be heard loud and clear by legislators.

First, Get the Blueprint Done

The Blueprint corrects a broken funding formula that amounted to underfunding every school by an average of $2 million a year for much of the last decade, and would address conditions of social injustice that existed before the pandemic and have only worsened during it. Legislation in 2019 funded the beginning of some Blueprint programs through this fiscal year, such as expanding community schools and bringing educators’ pay closer to on par with similar professions, but funding is needed to continue and expand these important programs and priorities.

The signature Blueprint legislation from 2020 would have improved school funding and made it much more equitable—but unfortunately Gov. Hogan’s veto of the bill in May stopped those changes in their tracks. K-12 public schools also froze $2.2 billion in school construction funds when the Blueprint veto also stopped HB1, the Built to Learn Act, which authorized the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue revenue bonds to invest in badly needed new and replacement schools and facilities.

The road to recovery from the pandemic will be paved over the long term through the implementation of the Blueprint and its expansion of special education services, teachers, school psychologists, and support professionals; expanded career technical education, pre-k, tutoring, and community schools; and better salaries, professional development, and support for educators.

First things first: legislators must override the governor’s veto of the Blueprint. A companion bill following the override may adjust timelines and details that were thrown out of whack by the governor’s veto.

Additional Veto Overrides Would Help Fund the Blueprint

More than $300 million in annual funding for the Blueprint and education in general would come from two key pieces of legislation that Hogan also vetoed: HB 732, the Tobacco, Sales and Use Tax and Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax (one part increase of the state tobacco tax and one part new tax on large online advertising companies like Google and Facebook); and HB 932, the 21st Century Economy Fairness Act on online sales of digital products. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund is estimated to receive $80 million-$120 million annually from the 21st Century tax. If Hogan had not vetoed it, sales since July 1 would have been subject to the tax. Another $250 million was estimated to be collected for education from the combination of the tobacco and digital advertising taxes. It’s applicable to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020, and still could be with a veto override.

Playing Defense on the Governor’s Harmful Cuts

On the heels of his vetoes, over the summer Hogan proposed $345 million in cuts from approved school- and educator-related funding and programs. Following an outcry from educators, members of the Board of Public Works stood against and stopped the roughly $110 million of his cuts that were on the board’s agenda in July. However, he has not backed down from the remaining $233 million in cuts, which include:

These cuts would require budgetary actions during the upcoming legislative session in order to come to fruition. As we did this summer, educators will need to speak loudly to push back against these deep cuts should they appear in a budget reconciliation bill that would mean immediate cuts in the middle of this current budget year.

The Enrollment Issue

The impact of temporarily fluctuating enrollment counts on school funding represents a huge unknown, and potentially enormous challenge, during the upcoming session.

Looking to FY22, we must get a reprieve from the federal enrollment count requirement to prevent a hemorrhage of school funding in the 2021-2022 school year. The one-time drop in enrollment during this school year could cause damage to local school funding that could take years to recover from. We must not dig ourselves into a deeper hole. We need to look for ways to mitigate or, at the very least, hold districts harmless from the cuts that could result from treating this year’s attendance counts as business as usual. The count taken on September 30, 2020, indicates approximately 20,000 missing students versus the previous year’s count, and nearly 4% less than predicted, and likely drastically undercounts the number who are eligible for education when the 2021-2022 school year starts. The undercount likely missed the most vulnerable students, such as those who live in poverty and qualify for Title I funding, English language learners, and students receiving special education services.

Some Relief May Be on the Way

Despite the challenges ahead, there may be new funding for education just over the horizon—both from state sources and from the incoming Biden Administration. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged strong support for public education and has acknowledged that local school districts need billions of dollars, as proposed in the HEROES Act, to stabilize education and save jobs. Biden supports giving schools additional billions to ensure they have the resources they need to operate during the pandemic. We must keep the pressure on Capitol Hill to respond to the crisis in state and local budgets and help shore up budgets and close gaps driven by the pandemic’s effect on the economy.

New Revenue Coming In?

In the November election, Marylanders voted to authorize sports betting for the primary purpose of funding schools. Legislators will now move to hammer out the details of betting venues and distribution of receipts. Stay tuned for the impact this will have on school funding in the future; this revenue could further help to fund the Blueprint in the out years.

Take Action: Help Override the Vetoes

There are a lot of unknowns during the legislative session ahead, but one thing is for sure: state legislators must override Hogan’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. We know that the long-term path to recovery runs through increased investment in our schools and students. Contact your legislator to ask them to override the veto of the Blueprint, and stay ready to be an education activist during this session to help protect the funding that our students need.