Civil rights groups appeal decision on decades-old Bradford lawsuit over Baltimore City schools funding

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Civil rights attorneys are appealing a Maryland court’s decision not to intervene in a decadeslong dispute over the state’s financing for Baltimore City Public Schools.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education filed the appeal Friday in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, further prolonging the argument over whether the state is adequately funding the city’s school system. The original 1994 case has spurred a consent decree, a local governance overhaul and multiple attempted funding fixes by lawmakers.


Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund in 2019 asked the court to reopen the landmark case, arguing the state was not living up to the terms spelled out in the consent decree. Judge Audrey J.S. Carrión rejected their argument earlier in March, ruling the state’s constitution and Supreme Court of Maryland delegate school funding decisions to the political branches of government, not the courts.

Representatives for Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, a firm assisting the state on the case, referred questions to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. In an emailed statement Friday, the office said it will continue to represent the state in the case.


“We also acknowledge and applaud the Maryland General Assembly and Governor Moore in their efforts to ensure every student in Maryland receives a valuable education that will help them succeed,” the office said in the statement.

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Part of the state’s position hinged on considerable education spending plans approved in recent years by the Maryland General Assembly, including the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and the Built to Learn Act. The laws are expected to steer billions of dollars into the state’s public schools in the coming decade.

The state argued plaintiffs did not prove the quality of facilities hindered students’ ability to learn and that the state fulfilled all its obligations. The state further asserted the consent decree should be interpreted as applying only to the children who attended the school system in 1994, when the suit was first filed.

Meanwhile, administrators and the civil rights groups say the school system is still inappropriately funded to maintain its buildings, which are among the oldest in the state and frequently close to students due to lack of heating and cooling throughout the year. The school system needs about $350 million annually to cover capital improvements and maintenance, said Alison Perkins-Cohen, city schools chief of staff, earlier in March. It currently receives about $27 million from the state and $19 million from the city annually to cover those costs.

Civil rights attorneys also have argued the city 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 Baltimore City school system supports the Bradford plaintiffs in their appeal, said spokeswoman Sherry Christian in an email Friday.

“It’s a commitment that Maryland has defaulted on for decades with providing a constitutionally-adequate education to its children by failing to address the historic and ongoing systemic underfunding of school facilities,” Christian said. “We urge the General Assembly to take action in this legislative session to remedy the profound impact of Baltimore City’s concentrated poverty on young people and the facilities where they learn.”

The appeal comes at a time when lawmakers in Annapolis are putting the final touches on the state’s budget plan. Baltimore City school leaders have again warned the jurisdiction is being left out of key education funding meant to combat poverty. Critics say the state’s methodology for distributing the aid fails to take into account each student’s environment, as well as their family’s socioeconomic status to calculate how much aid their school would receive.