School funding lawsuit filed by civil rights groups can continue, judge says

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A Baltimore City Circuit judge Tuesday preserved a decades old lawsuit that had pushed the state to provide millions more for Baltimore’s schools, a ruling that eventually could have far-reaching consequences for state funding of public schools in Maryland.

The ACLU of Maryland and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund went to court last March to reopen a landmark case filed in 1994. They argued the the state is not living up to its obligation — spelled out in a consent decree two decades ago — to provide enough funding for city schools.


The ACLU and NAACP LDF say the state should be spending $200 million to $300 million more each year to rebuild deteriorating buildings and provide a better education. If they were to succeed, Maryland would face pressure to spend far more on schools throughout the state as well.

The state had asked a judge to dismiss the case, saying that funding of public schools is not in the jurisdiction of the courts, but should be decided by the political process. In addition, the state said there was a statute of limitations on the case.


Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion ruled in favor of the civil rights organizations, allowing them to pursue their argument the state must give more money to city schools.

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The Maryland Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

The school funding case is running parallel to a political process now playing out in the Maryland General Assembly, which will consider a $4 billion increase in funding for schools by 2030. Known as the Kirwan recommendations, the education reform plan will be introduced soon in the legislature.

If the state legislature fails to pass a Kirwan bill this winter, the state would still face the lawsuit that might force additional spending.

The Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education case has a long history in Maryland. After rulings in the case, the state and city entered into a consent decree in 1996. The agreement provided more funding for city schools and revamped the governance of the school system.

In 2002, the legislature passed a law that sent billions of state dollars to schools across Maryland, what has become known at the “Thornton formula.”

But civil rights groups argue that since 2008, Maryland stopped adjusting the formula for inflation and allowed funding for Baltimore to fall far below the level required to provide an adequate education. The Kirwan Commission was appointed to update the Thornton formula, which is now considered outdated.

“It is beyond time that Maryland meet its constitutional obligation to provide all students – including the thousands of African-American children in Baltimore – the education they need and deserve,” said Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. If the state does not fulfill its obligations, Quereshi said, his group will continue to fight on behalf of the students.