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Education

Arguments resume in decades-old Bradford lawsuit over adequate funding for Baltimore City schools

Frank Patinella, senior education advocate with the ACLU of Maryland, speaks outside the Baltimore City Circuit Court before a hearing on a lawsuit against the Maryland State Board of Education.

A decades-old lawsuit against the Maryland State Board of Education returned to court this week, reviving a prolonged debate over whether the state provides adequate funding for Baltimore City schools.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Audrey J. S. Carrión heard arguments Wednesday from attorneys representing the state and plaintiffs from the original 1994 case known as Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education. Each side asked the court for a summary judgment to settle whether the state has violated city students’ right to an education as guaranteed in the state constitution.

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The case has loomed for years over the Baltimore City Public School System and resulted in a consent decree, a governance overhaul and several attempted funding fixes by legislators. The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys with the ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, asked the court in 2019 to reopen the case, arguing the state was not providing enough funding for city schools under the terms of the consent decree.

The civil rights organizations say the city school system is distinctive from other jurisdictions because it has a higher concentration of students who require extra support, such as those who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners or have a disability. The city’s school buildings, which are among the oldest in the state, are in poor condition, they said.

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The plaintiffs estimate the school system likely needs about $300 million more per year than it is currently receiving from the state.

Attorneys from Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, a firm assisting the Maryland Attorney General’s Office in representing the state board of education, argued that the state constitution delegates public education funding duties to the General Assembly — not the courts.

They described the consent decree as a settlement agreement between the state and the city school system and not a court order. And they pointed to recent school funding infusions from the 21st Century Buildings Program, the Built to Learn Act and the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future as well as federal pandemic relief funds as evidence of the state’s investment in Baltimore City schools.

Throughout the hearing, Carrión questioned attorneys about the court’s role in determining funding for public schools and state case law that speaks to the issue of “adequate” funding. The judge asked all parties to submit final briefs on the case by Dec. 30, signaling a decision wouldn’t come before the end of the year.


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