Baltimore prepares to launch $12 million youth fund

Baltimore prepares to launch $12M youth fund

Baltimore officials are preparing to launch a new $12 million fund for children and teens that will be one of the city's largest distributors of grant money.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young will convene a 34-member task force Tuesday to create a framework for sending money to community organizations that work with young people in Baltimore.

"This is a big deal," Young said. "It's going to have a major impact."

The fund commits the city to setting aside more than $12 million a year for youth programs. That's on top of the nearly $375 million the city spends on schools, prekindergarten, after-school programs, libraries and youth health services.

The task force includes members of some of Baltimore's most influential organizations, such as the Abell Foundation, Associated Black Charities and Catholic Charities.

The co-chairmen of the task force are John Brothers, who oversees T. Rowe Price's philanthropic activities, and Adam Jackson, the CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a Baltimore think tank that focuses on social activism.

"I'm really excited," Brothers said. "It's bringing forth a large swath of voices in the city."

Brothers said the city's youth fund will stack up against some of the largest private nonprofits in Baltimore.

"You're essentially creating the third- or fourth-largest grant-making institution in the city," he said. "This committee will try to make sure the funding gets back out into communities in a real serious way."

Jackson said his goal is to make sure grassroots, black-led organizations are positioned to get the funding.

"We can build capacity in the community instead relying on other people to do that for us," he said.

The youth fund also represents a chance for Baltimore to improve conditions that contributed to the unrest of 2015, Jackson said. Freddie Gray, 25, died from injuries suffered in police custody in April of that year. The protests and rioting that followed his funeral drew attention to the pervasive problems faced by city youths, including poverty, inadequate education and a high rate of incarceration.

Jackson said by investing directly in Baltimore's African-American community, the city can make a real impact.

"Fundamentally, we have an opportunity to change the way the resources are distributed," Jackson said. "If we're serious about addressing systemic racism and poverty, the only response is investing in people and black-led organizations."

Baltimore's top elected officials disagreed on the wisdom of mandating spending on youth programs.

Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed Young's bill last year, arguing creating such a fund was fiscally irresponsible. She said dedicating tax dollars for the new fund would tie the hands of future mayors, and in tight budget years could force cuts to core city services.

Nevertheless, the City Council unanimously overrode her veto — the first time since 1982 that Baltimore's council rejected a mayoral veto.

Baltimore voters had the final say because the city charter needed to be amended to create the fund. In November, 82 percent of voters approved.

The city now faces a $20 million budget shortfall and is under pressure to spend more money on the Baltimore public school system, which face a $130 million budget gap. Mayor Catherine Pugh has argued that the public should consider the youth fund part of the city's contribution to schoolchildren.

By law, the city's contribution to the youth fund is determined by the value of assessable property. The latest estimate of the city's assessable base is $40.4 billion, which means $12.1 million in taxpayer money will be funneled to the youth fund in the budget year that begins July 1. That amount could be supplemented by private donations, officials say.

Young said the task force's goal is to research how similar funds operate in other cities and make recommendations about how Baltimore's should work.

The council president said he wants the task force to set up criteria for how officials should judge grant proposals, including a scoring system. He also wants to make sure at least two youths serve on the body that will award the grants.

"This youth fund is a great step," Young said. "I'm happy about it."

The task force's first meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Humanim American Brewery, 1701 N. Gay Street.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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