Our classrooms were cold. There is no question that it angered us to see our students trying to learn while wearing gloves and winter coats. As educators, we felt frustrated trying to teach when teeth were chattering. All over the local and national news, we saw stories of our colleagues at other Baltimore City schools in even more drastic situations — burst pipes leaving floors with frozen, peeling tiles, thermometers reading below freezing temperatures, and teachers trying to use the frigid air as a teachable moment about how the friction from rubbing their hands together would warm them up. These conditions are not acceptable for any child or adult.
These unacceptable learning conditions serve as a chilly reminder of what students, families, and educators in Baltimore City have all have known for years — that resource inequities force Baltimore City students to learn in environments that would never be tolerated in more affluent or more white districts. The lack of heat and the dilapidated school buildings in Baltimore City is not simply a funding issue; it is an equity issue.
While it pulls at everyone’s heart strings to see any student bundled in coats, gloves and hats during a school day, these images are the consequence of something much larger than broken boilers. These conditions are the result of institutionalized racism and injustices that have been perpetuated for centuries. These are students of color. These are students whose families are more likely to be poor. We set the expectation for all students to graduate college or career-ready, but then we allow policymakers to continue policies that make those achievements so much more difficult for students of color or students who live in poverty. This is not acceptable.
It is not a secret that funding for Baltimore city schools has decreased in recent years, but even before that, funding to Baltimore City was less than adequate. In 2002, the Thornton Commission created adequacy targets for funding that ensure all schools have the appropriate funds for providing students the resources needed to meet academic standards. However, Thornton’s funding formula was never fully funded, and that failure has had the biggest impact on districts with the most need. Baltimore City is one of the districts that is the most shortchanged per student when compared to the need-based targets, with the 18th largest adequacy gap out of the 20 school districts who receive less annually on a per pupil basis than was recommended in 2002. These gaps in funding cause Baltimore City Schools to be $290 million below target every year, compounding the impact.
As City Neighbors High School student Ciera Smith said in her testimony before the Kirwan Commission on Oct.12th, “When schools are underfunded, [students] are not able to work at our maximum ability. We are trapped in a cycle of oppression and poverty which we hoped the access to education would break.” Now is the time for our policymakers to be bold and stand for all Maryland students, regardless of their ZIP code.
First, it is critical that our legislature uses the 2018 General Assembly session to advance the policy work of the Kirwan Commission. This week, the Kirwan Commission is set to share its interim report with suggestions for nine “Building Blocks,” one of which is resources and funding. It is important that the General Assembly uses these suggestions as the foundation for legislation that will positively impact our schools.
Second, it is important that the General Assembly passes Del. Maggie McIntosh and Sen. Joan Carter Conway’s legislation for a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would put the state’s revenue from casinos into a “lockbox” for schools, ensuring that gambling taxes are used to supplement state funding for education, rather than to supplant it. This would give voters the opportunity in 2018 to ensure the revenue from casinos is used as it was originally intended: to help students and schools.
Last, we must demand that anyone seeking our vote in the 2018 state and federal elections will fight for education equity. Let’s not get sidetracked solely by the images of cold children and broken down buildings — let’s hold our public officials accountable and demand that they fulfill the promise of a high quality education for students in Baltimore City and throughout the state.
Christina Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a teacher at City Neighbors High School, where Cheyanne Zahrt is the principal. They represent the City Neighbors Advocacy Team, a group of parents and educators from the three City Neighbors schools (City Neighbors High School, City Neighbors Hamilton, and City Neighbors Charter School) dedicated to advocating for great public education in Baltimore.