UPPER MARLBORO – Despite a call for full funding at the behest of the Prince George’s County Council, County Executive Rushern Baker III and Prince George’s County Public Schools, Governor Larry Hogan has decided to withhold the remaining 50 percent of the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) funding the county has sought.
PGCPS released a statement calling Hogan’s actions “disastrous” and saying the governor has a “disdain” for public schools.
“We are disappointed and mystified by Governor Hogan’s decision to reduce funding by half for GCEI, especially after the General Assembly worked so hard to restore this funding,” the statement said. “Whether this decision is due to a desire to play politics, misplaced priorities, or poor advice, what the Governor should know is that the children and families of PGCPS will be the ones punished by this very unfortunate action.”
PGCPS would have received $40 million from the state had the governor chosen to fully grant GCEI funding statewide. Instead, according to the statement, they will only receive $20 million, which is the equivalent of removing 240 teachers from classrooms throughout the county.
The Maryland General Assembly passed Senate bill 183 requiring Hogan to fully grant GCEI funding to the state, but the appropriation of the full funding is not mandated until FY 2017 while the budget just approved by the general assembly is for FY 2016.
With Hogan refusing to fully grant the rest of the GCEI funding to the county, PGCPS must now make decisions on whether they must cut costs from anywhere in their budget according to Sherrie Johnson, spokeswoman for PGCPS.
“We are still determining these things,” Johnson said. “No decisions for any cuts have been made as of yet.”
This is a move to ensure that pensions for Maryland state employees and teachers are not put at risk for reduction, according to Hogan.
“I was elected to deliver fiscal responsibility to Annapolis, which means putting an end to the damaging, budgetary gimmicks that put the state’s long term financial stability at risk,” Hogan said.
The Sentinel previously reported Hogan’s decision to slash GCEI funding by 50 percent, saving the state $143 million. Prince George’s County loses $20 million in GCEI funding as a result of the 50 percent cut from the state.
Baker questioned the commitment to the state’s education system from Hogan. This is doing a disservice to the children across the county and the state, Baker said.
“I believe it is a disservice to the people of Prince George’s County and a significant disinvestment in the children and future of this county and our state,” Baker said.
The county’s proposed budget that would help make PGCPS a top 10 school system by the year 2020, according to Baker, is seeking to make an additional investment in the school system that the state will not make.
“I proposed this investment based on data that consistently evidenced a deterioration of our school system over the past two decades in a number of areas, including teacher salaries and inequities in the types and level of resources offered to our children,” Baker said.
That is not a popular decision among county residents, Baker said, but the county must take a stand and “put politics aside” in order to make “fact-based” decisions and support the education system.
“It is disheartening that the Governor is not showing the same level of dedication to Prince George’s County children, who should also be highly valued children of the State of Maryland,” Baker said.
Despite Baker’s questions about his commitment to education in Maryland, Hogan said he is still committed to funding the education system and has increased education funding by $109 million from last year’s budgeted amount.
Overall, Hogan has committed $6.1 billion overall to K-12 education in the state including a $318 million investment in school construction.
“I also want to set the record straight on the investments my administration has made in K-12 education, including a $109 million increase in funding over last year,” Hogan said. “We have taken steps to grow education funding, but the state still faces $18.7 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, following $625 million in cuts to pension contributions in the last few years. To address this situation, I’ve decided not to follow the General Assembly’s recommendation to raid the pension fund.”
Removing money from pension funds would be “shortsighted and irresponsible,” Hogan said, and constituents elected him to “end this very type of reckless budgeting and governing.”
Pensions for employees are important, said County Council Chairman Mel Franklin, but the state legislature is finding ways to balance those issues along with education funding. This is a long-term issue, Franklin said, that will take more than cuts to solve.
“We’re going to have to address this on the state and local levels. We all are going to have to address this,” Franklin said. “My understanding is that the legislature found ways to fund these things and also provide equity and opportunity for education.”
Franklin said he is disappointed the governor is withholding the rest of the GCEI funding for the state. The reason for this funding, Franklin said, is to deliver an equitable and adequate education to children across the state.
“That’s why we have the funding distribution the way we have it in the state. It is to create equality and opportunity for all students. So when that funding is held hostage by the governor, it undermines equality and opportunity throughout the state,” Franklin said.
This is not about a dollar figure, Franklin said, but it is about the equal opportunity the dollar figure affords children in Maryland.
Hogan will not sign SB 183, he said, but the legislation passed favorably in the House (88-51) and Senate (32-15), collectively adding up to three more votes than needed to pass the bill.
Prince George’s County Council
County Executive Rushern Baker III