Hundreds urge Kirwan Commission to provide equitable funding to schools

Hundreds of people gathered in the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute auditorium Thursday night to urge members of the Kirwan Commission to develop a formula that would more equitably fund education in Baltimore and across Maryland.

The 25-member commission, formed to revamp the way the state distributes funding to school systems, is holding public hearings across the state before issuing a report to the legislature before the end of the year. The General Assembly will then decide how to implement its recommendations.

A study released last year estimated it would take an additional $1.9 billion in state funding and $1 billion in local funding to adequately fund Maryland’s schools. In Baltimore alone, schools need an additional $358 million annually, the report found. Advocates urged the commission not to short-change the city when developing an updated funding formula.

City schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the commission must answer the question, “Do we as a society believe it is acceptable for a child’s life to be predetermined by the ZIP code in which they were born?”

More than 50 people testified during the hearing, many echoing the theme that city students need more resources to reach their potential. Baltimore Education Coalition co-chair Sharicca Boldon asked the commission to find more funding for districts that are comprised of mostly black and brown students.

“What I know — and what all my classmates know, too — is that when schools are underfunded, we are not able to work at our maximum ability,” said City Neighbors High School student Ciera Smith. “We are trapped in a cycle of oppression and poverty which we hoped the access to education would break.”

The commission is considering whether schools should receive universal pre-kindergartender, support for community schools and additional funding for teacher salaries and capital projects.

“There are just not enough teachers in the classroom,” said Pam Gaddy, a Patapsco High School social studies teacher in Baltimore County. Gaddy would put more money toward raising teacher salaries and reducing class sizes.

Eileen Edwards, a school nurse at Dogwood Elementary School in the Woodlawn area of Baltimore County, is concerned over what she said is the lack of staff to support students. “There is just not enough assistants in the schools that are behavior specialists for students who are coming to us with chronic behavior issues.”

Speakers urged the commission to consider students living in concentrated poverty, segregation and areas of violence. Several speakers said that concentrated poverty exists in many areas around the state, not just in the city.

“All students deserve access to a quality education,” Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said. “We ask you as a commission to look at how we balance resources throughout the state to make sure that every child ends up with a quality education.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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