Where’s All That Casino Money?

Efforts are underway to create a lockbox for revenues and ensure it goes to schools.

In 2011, casinos contributed $50 million to the Education Trust Fund; in 2013, $284 million; in 2015, $350 million. Projections for last year are $500 million — in total, $2 billion since 2011.

If you’ve been wondering about the influx of casino cash lawmakers promised when casino gambling passed in Maryland, you’re not alone.

Talk about school funding with nearly anyone who follows public education and they’ll say, “But what about the casino money?” Sold as a silver bullet for resource-strapped schools, the money has instead merely supplanted the general funds that would normally go to meet the state’s required contributions to public education.

Since the opening of the first casino in Maryland in 2010, $1.7 billion has gone into the Education Trust Fund. But the state’s education funding has remained stagnant — adhering strictly to the state’s school funding formula — so instead of improving public education with big gambling dollars, lawmakers have come to depend on those dollars to help finance the state’s general fund.

Skeptics — legislators, educators, and the public — say, “I told you so,” noting that there was no requirement that education spending increase with casino revenues. But two state legislators, Del. Maggie McIntosh (D–Baltimore City) and Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D–Baltimore City) are out to correct the course during the General Assembly session with a constitutional amendment that would, according to the Baltimore Sun, “put the state’s share of revenue from its casino gambling industry in a ‘lockbox’ for public schools.”

McIntosh told the Sun that the amendment would ensure that gambling money would not supplant the education funding formula but enhance it. On the first day of Maryland’s 2018 General Assembly session, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch pledged to sponsor the legislation, dramatically raising its chances of success.

“The lockbox proposal could serve as the down-payment we need to address the chronic underfunding of our schools,” said Sean Johnson, MSEA’s chief lobbyist. “Our schools face a shortfall of nearly $3 billion in state aid. This rededicated money would be a major new investment in our schools.”

See MSEA’s timeline for more about closing the $2.9 billion gap in education funding.