Governor Hogan, reverse the cuts to MCPS

By Editorial Board

Last Thursday, MCPS was hit with a pair of blistering blows: a $17 million budget cut issued by Gov. Larry Hogan on top of the $53 million already hacked away by the revenue-bereft County Council the very same day.

No one will be spared. MCPS must lay off 370 employees in total, and Whitman is not immune to the pain. As Dr. Goodwin told the Black & White earlier this week, thanks to the cuts, we will lose a special education teacher, part of an ESOL teacher and some non-teacher staff. As a result, class sizes will metastasize to an overwhelming 34 students per class, with 30 per class in the English department, with per-pupil spending dipping to its lowest level since 2006.

We understand that the county and state are both facing daunting fiscal challenges. The county saw lower-than-expected tax revenue this year and, thanks to some accounting chicanery for the past decade in Annapolis, the state is looking at an impending pension crisis. We recognize that not everyone can get what they want and what they deserve.

But cutting education is possibly the most irresponsible thing Hogan could have done.

For one, it’s borderline illegal. The General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year that required Hogan to fully fund the education funding increases mandated under a 2002 Maryland law called the Geographic Cost of Education Index. By cutting $68 million total from the state, Hogan is unilaterally defying a law passed by the legislature. As one official at the Maryland Department of Legislative Services told the Huffington Post earlier this week, “funds allotted through the GCEI cannot be spent for another purpose,” so Hogan’s plan to redirect the funding to shore up the pension fund seems to be on shaky legal grounds.

For another, it represents the absolutely misguided priorities of the current administration. Just two weeks ago, the state funded a $30 million youth jail; yet now Hogan wants to cut funding for the very tool that could keep kids out of such facilities. In particular, much of the GCEI budget cuts will fall on the backs of Baltimore’s school district, which deserves it more than anywhere.

The pension crisis that precipitated the need for these cuts is likewise absurd. The $20 billion pension shortfall was borne out of legislative wishful thinking and incompetence: after already facing a yawning deficit in the past couple years, the Washington Post reports, state lawmakers raided half of the state’s contribution to the fund, naively believing that a soaring stock market could cover the rest. And earlier this year, the so-called “anti-gimmicky” Hogan acquiesced to state purloining of millions from pensions to fund other priorities.

The pension shortfall now tops $20 billion. Cutting $17 million from the MCPS education budget is not even one-tenth of one percent of that. Yes, Maryland has an obligation to honor its commitments to its employees and fully reimburse the pension fund. But Maryland also has an obligation to its students, an obligation Hogan and the state seems to have forgotten.

Paying for pensions shouldn’t come out of school budgets. It’s that simple.