As the daughter of a Prince George’s County teacher and a mother of five sons who went through almost all of their prekindergarten-through-12th-grade education in Prince George’s County Public Schools (one is now a teacher in this same school system), I am 100 percent enthusiastic about every bit of the Kirwan Commission’s plan.
But there’s always a “but.” The state has the responsibility for educating its students, yet the Kirwan Commission’s funding proposal sends a huge bill to the local school systems that have the greatest needs. In the proposed funding plan, Prince George’s County, by 2030, would have to pay an additional $360.9 million each year to fund our schools, a nearly 40 percent increase in county education funding. The state’s share would be $565.2 million, which wouldn’t increase even if it turned out that the projections of how many special-needs and English-language learners turn out to be wrong.
The 2020 budget included more than $2 billion in funding for the Board of Education; $786.5 million of this is from the county. This is a $22.9 million increase over last year’s budget and exceeds the state’s funding requirement.
Prince George’s County relies heavily on property taxes to fund the budget, and it is already taxing our citizens at the highest rate in our region. Prince George’s suffered more as a result of the housing crisis than almost any jurisdiction in the country, and it became clear that minority borrowers were targeted for subprime loans. And, unlike other jurisdictions in the region, our home values have not fully rebounded from the losses we endured in the housing crisis. We already have the most affordable housing in the region, which also means that people who get pushed out from our wealthier neighboring jurisdictions often move to Prince George’s. With that often comes greater needs and a lesser tax base compared with other regional jurisdictions.
For years, our schools were missing out on about $20 million annually in state funding that we were entitled to, according to the funding formula that includes wealth relative to other Maryland counties as part of the calculation.
With other reductions in funding from the state, plus shifting some of the burden of teacher pensions to the local jurisdictions, our well here in Prince George’s County is running dry. For all of the good that would come from implementing the Kirwan Commission’s proposal using its current funding formula, fixed- and low-income Prince Georgians and the communities they have called home for years would undoubtedly bear the burden of what would need to be steep increases in county property taxes to raise the $360.9 million in new revenue.
The state, however, has many more options to raise much-needed funds than local jurisdictions do, and I hope that in the upcoming legislative session in Annapolis the General Assembly will take advantage of some of those options. Tax brackets that are more progressive would bring fairness and additional funds. According to the Maryland Center for Economic Policy, 99 percent of Maryland residents make less than $535,000 a year but pay 1.4 percent more of their income in taxes than those who make more than that. If this were rectified by increasing income taxes on those who could most afford it, along with reversing the recent cut to the millionaire estate tax and closing corporate loopholes, we would be well on our way to having the state be able to foot a larger proportion of the bill instead of kicking it to the counties and Baltimore.
The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations will require that some people’s taxes are raised in Maryland. The discussion in Annapolis in the upcoming General Assembly session will revolve around who will be paying those higher taxes. I believe that wealthier individuals and corporations should be our first option, and raising regressive taxes on already impoverished or overburdened communities that have been historically underfunded by the state because of redlining, predatory lending and other forms of predation and discrimination should be our last.