On Thursday, Nov. 7 Maryland teachers and supporters will protest a fundraiser being held by Republican Governor Larry Hogan aimed at fighting increased spending on public schools.
The popular, term-limited Governor who frequently spars with teachers unions and has even called them “thugs,” is through, Change Maryland Action Fund, a Super PAC, courting wealthy donors to build a two million dollar war chest, funding lobbying efforts and a PR campaign to turn public opinion against a plan to dramatically boost education spending. Hogan has said the plan to equitably fund public schools “is outrageous pandering to special interest groups.”
The fundraiser is being held at the Live! Casino & Hotel outside of Baltimore, and guests are encouraged to give $25,000 for a VIP table, The Washington Post reported. “There is no limit on the amount that you can donate to Change Maryland Action Fund,” an ad for the casino fundraiser states. Because Change Maryland Action Fund identifies as a “political organization” and is not immediately connected to Hogan’s official campaign committee, it can bypass the $6,000 limit for direct donations to a political candidate.
Diamonté Brown, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, is one of many attending the protest.
“Governor Hogan may want to learn a lesson from Kentucky’s recent election about what happens to the political careers of governors who choose to make public schools, teachers, and the students they serve their enemies,” Brown said.
Hogan has maintained he has budgeted “record” funding for public education, and that schools are not underfunded, rather plagued by rampant mismanagement—a common Republican talking point. But a state panel known as the Kirwan Commission tasked with studying how to make the state’s schools competitive in the 21st century found schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion each year.
“It’s important for folks in Maryland to see what this governor is really up to—shameful,” said Rob Helfenbein, Associate Dean of Education at Loyola University. “We know that children deserve access to high quality pre-kindergarten programs. We know that Baltimore City has been repeatedly underfunded and underserved by the state.”
Democrats have vowed to pass Kirwan without large tax increases, and can point to broad public support. A recent Goucher College Poll found 70% of those surveyed believe the state spends “too little” on public education, with 74% saying they “support personally paying more in taxes to improve public education.”
In 2008, Maryland voters approved Casinos with the promise their revenue would give a big boost to schools. But that money never actually reached classrooms and instead only supplanted existing funding. Voters finally approved a new ballot measure in 2018 that phased in that increased revenue to schools, amounting to hundreds of millions a year through 2022.
Hogan has claimed that funding Kirwan would mean “a 535% increase to property taxes”, or would cost families “$6,200 in additional taxes per year,” statements even The Sun’s editorial board (who endorsed Hogan) called “alternative facts.”
“It’s disappointing that Governor Hogan is focused on misinformation, scare tactics, and raising dark money from wealthy donors rather than rolling up his sleeves to help lead on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure that every student in every neighborhood has a great public school,” said Adam Mendelson, a spokesperson for the Maryland State Education Association(MSEA), the state’s largest teachers union.
One of the wealthiest states in the country, Maryland schools are marked by stark disparities; the state spends 4.9% on lower income school districts than wealthier ones, the Kirwan Commission found. Its recommendations include expanding Pre-K, increasing teacher pay, and ensuring all students are college and career ready before they graduate. The plan comes with a nearly four billion a year price tag to be phased in by 2030, through increases to both local and state contributions.
Hogan has repeatedly lashed out at the Commission’s recommendations, calling it the “Kirwan Tax-Hike Commission”: “We cannot recklessly expand the state’s deficit to $18.7 billion, as the Kirwan Tax Hike Commission’s proposals require,” Hogan recently posted on Facebook. “And we absolutely will not impose billions in crippling state and local tax increases on Marylanders.” Cleaning up Maryland’s tax code and closing corporate tax loopholes could raise close to $2 billion a year towards funding Kirwan, The Maryland Center on Economic Policy argued in a recent report.
Before becoming Governor, Hogan served as a director for the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a libertarian think-tank, that’s been described as the “policy-arm” of his administration. As The Beat has previously reported, MPPI’s members frequently appear on outlets like Baltimore Sinclair-affiliate Fox 45, to make the case that privatization, not increased funding will help underperforming schools.
“It is a disgrace that Hogan prefers to throw a party with the 1% to raise money against the children of Maryland,” said Khalilah Harris, Managing Director, K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and a former Real News Executive Producer.
The Gov.’s office has yet to respond to a comment for this story.
Additional reporting by Brandon Soderberg.