March 6, Hyattsville parents learned about the coming school funding crunch and a proposed Maryland tax bill that would help fund Prince George’s County schools.

Strong Schools Maryland held a town hall meeting at the Hyattsville library to discuss the history and future of public school funding. 

Strong Schools, founded in 2017, was created to ensure the passage of state legislation called the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The Blueprint, passed between 2018 and 2021, would increase state funding for schools 45% by 2034.

Now, Strong Schools is working to ensure that the Blueprint legislation is fully funded and here to stay. 

The Strong Schools Fair Share proposal

Shamoyia Gardiner, executive director for Strong Schools, said at the town hall that working families are paying their fair share toward public education, but corporations and the state’s wealthiest individuals are not.

“We are currently leaving billions of dollars on the table as a state,” said Gardiner.

The Fair Share Plan would increase the income tax of millionaires by 7%, close corporate tax loopholes, and increase tax credits for working families. 

Currently Maryland’s maximum income tax on individuals making over $250,000 a year is 5.75%.

 Additionally, Maryland is one of 22 states that does not require combined reporting for corporate income taxes. Combined reporting treats the parent company and its branches as one group to prevent corporations from moving income out of state or overseas. 

Strong Schools Maryland is one of 30 organizations that are a part of the Maryland Fair Funding Coalition and are pushing for this bill. Other organizations include the ACLU, AFL-CIO Maryland-DC and the NAACP Maryland. 

According to the coalition, a third of the wealthiest companies in Maryland often pay no taxes in a typical year, and the wealthiest 1% of individuals pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than everyone else. In fiscal year 2024, corporate income contributed 3% of total school revenue. 

Proponents of the bill said that if applied, The Fair Share Plan would raise $1.6B in revenue every year, fully funding the Blueprint program and various other social services. 

Hyattsville parents called to action

Gardiner called on Hyattsville parents to join those supporting the bill. 

Attendees scanned a QR code linked to the Fair Share website, where they sent an auto-generated message to their state legislator. 

“Let these folks know that you understand the difference between taxes that help and taxes that hurt,” Gardiner said.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson and Governor Wes Moore have both said they do not plan on raising taxes this session.  

However, neighboring county executives in Anne Arundel, Frederick, and Montgomery County have come out in support of the bill. 

Prince George’s County and Baltimore County Public Schools receive the most state money from the Blueprint program. This is due to the equity-based model, which pays districts more based on the number of students who need additional support. The concentration of poverty within a given school and the number of English Language Learners or disabled students are all taken into account. 

According to organizers, without action from parents and community members, the plan to fund Maryland schools until 2030 will run out of money by 2026.

Thornton’s school funding crash course  

Alvin Thornton, a former county school board chair and long-time education advocate, warned parents at the March 6 meeting that defunding the blueprint program would be repeating past mistakes. 

He said in the 1990s, the approach to school funding left gaps in underserved communities.

“There was no notion of equity. … those phrases didn’t even exist,” Thorton said. 

That changed in 1999 when the Thornton Commission was established at the state level to address school performance and funding. The commission crafted the Bridge to Excellence Act, which was passed in 2002.

The Bridge to Excellence program weighted funding based on students’ need profiles, a first for Maryland. However, failing to fund the program upfront made it vulnerable to budget shortfalls during the Great Recession of 2008. 

Thornton said without investing in education, we will cripple the future economic growth of the state and fail to prepare children to inherit the future. 

“I always tell people, you can easily solve the Bridge and Blueprint issue; just lower the expectations that you have for children,” Thornton joked. 

Parents get schooled on the Blueprint

During the workshop, community members learned about the Blueprint’s goals, including early childhood education and attracting high-quality, diverse teachers. Organizers tested parents on what they learned.

Jamie McGonnigal is a parent at Hyattsville Elementary School. He attended the workshop, and said he realized that he and his community knew little about the Blueprint program. With Hyattsville Elementary slated to be rebuilt, he is concerned about the project’s funding being threatened. 

“We have people who want to make a difference in their communities,” McGonnigal said. “They want to do good, and they want to make sure we have great schools… I know my neighbors are really good at standing up when they need to fix something.”