Poll finds support for increased school aid and higher taxes to support it

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By Len Lazarick

New polling results funded by the state teachers union finds broad bipartisan support for increased funding for public education, even if it means “closing corporate loopholes and raising income taxes on the state’s highest earners.”

The poll taken late last month by Gonzales Research was part of the same survey that found 74% approval ratings for the job Gov. Larry Hogan is doing.

But the results of the questions on education would seem to put the same voters at odds with Hogan’s strong opposition to new taxes and strong support of increased funding for private school scholarships.

Hogan has proposed doubling the amount of the $5 million BOOST program that “provides scholarships for low-income students in areas with under-performing schools to attend non-public schools.” CORRECTION, 1/17/2017, 9 p.m. The governor’s budget currently provides $6.3 $5.5 billion for public schools,including teacher retirement, a thousand times the amount it provides in scholarships to private schools.

A state Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (the Kirwan Commission) is currently reexamining funding formulas for public schools. Consultants are recommending that the state spend $1.9 billion more.

Important to all parties

Gonzales Research asked “How important to you is it to have increased funding for public education in Maryland?” 62% of Maryland voters said it was “very important” and 22% said it was “somewhat important.” Only 15% said it was not important.

While the number of those favoring increased school funding was highest among Democrats (93%) and women (87%), it was also strong among Republicans (70%), the unaffiliated (76%) and men (79%).

Asked for a response to the poll, Hogan communications director Doug Mayer said, “The governor has provided for record K-12 public education funding in each of his first two budgets and that incredible trend will continue this year as well.”

Seventy-three percent (73%) of Maryland voters would favor increasing funding for public education in Maryland if this means closing corporate loopholes and raising income taxes on the state’s highest earners (55% “strongly favor” and 18% “somewhat favor”). Twenty-five percent (25%) would oppose increasing funding for schools if it means closing corporate loopholes and raising income taxes on the state’s highest earners (17% “strongly oppose” and 8% “somewhat oppose”).

While the idea is favored strongly by Democrats (81%), it is even supported by 59% of Republicans and 71% of the unaffiliated voters.

“Closing corporate loopholes” are generally legislative code words for a system a corporate taxing system known as “combined reporting” that taxes more corporate profit. Maryland also has among the highest state personal income tax rates for high earners, with some paying as much as 9.25% when county income taxes are included.

Support for universal pre-K

Among voters, 70% favor expanding access to public pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-old kids in the state (52% “strongly favor” and 18% “somewhat favor”), while 23% oppose expanding access to public pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-olds.

Making pre-K available for all students is one of the reasons consultants on the adequacy of funding for education are recommending a large increase in state aid.

The governor is due to release his budget by Wednesday that must resolve a structural deficit that is partly driven by mandated spending such as education aid.

Gonzales Research conducted the poll between Dec. 14 and Jan. 2 contacting 823 registered voters by landline and cell phone. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.5%.