New data on the condition of Maryland school buildings shows a startling gap between Baltimore City and the rest of the state, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Public health, education and medical experts at Hopkins released the findings Tuesday of their study comparing the condition of Baltimore City Public School facilities with those in other counties using data provided in spring 2022 by the Interagency Commission on School Construction. The city school system had about 77,000 students enrolled last year.
The commission, an independent board whose nine members are appointed by the governor, lawmakers and other state officials, collected data on the condition of K-12 school facilities across the state during the 2020-21 school year, a time when the COVID-19 pandemic moved instruction online for many students. The assessment aimed in part to measure the current physical condition of all public schools in the state and evaluate whether they meet the acceptable minimum levels for the physical attributes, capacity and educational suitability.
The average age of Baltimore City schools is 37 years old, placing the jurisdiction at third highest in the state behind Prince George’s and Kent counties. City school facilities have the oldest components — such as HVAC systems, windows or gym floors — and were in worse condition than in any other county in Maryland, according to researchers.
“The conditions of the school facilities in Baltimore City are clearly the worst in the state,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and one of the study’s authors. “The consequences of leaking roofs and failed air conditioning and general cracks in the concrete are that students miss school.”
Baltimore City schools have long struggled to keep up with a massive maintenance backlog, which topped $3 billion in 2018. Students lost instruction time due to lacking heating and air conditioning.
The city school system has a plan to install air conditioning — or complete new construction for all schools that lack cooling by the summer of 2023. The General Assembly approved the Built to Learn Act in 2020, which gives school systems statewide an additional $2.2 billion over five years for school construction.
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The study expands on previous research published in 2020, which found city students collectively missed nearly 1.5 million hours of class time over a five-year period — equal to about 221,000 school days — when their schools closed due to infrastructure problems.
“When the [Baltimore City] students say they know kids in other counties have it better, they’re right,” Sharfstein said.
In addition to the study’s findings, researchers included comments from city school students collected by the Nobody Asked Me Campaign, a community research project that aims to ask students and their families what they want and how to produce solutions.
“My half-sister went to high school in [another Maryland county],” one student told the campaign. “They had really nice stuff, and I always wanted her to know how bad we had it. I just felt like it didn’t make sense that one district in Maryland should have a significantly better schooling experience than we were.”
Sharfstein said while Maryland officials developed formulas to fairly distribute educational funds, he worried there is not as much attention paid to capital improvements. He hopes to present the study’s findings directly to the state’s Interagency Commission on School Construction.
“This is defining a problem that many people in the city know exist,” he said. “Hopefully [the data] is telling a story that can’t be ignored.”
Sharfstein and other officials, including city schools CEO Sonja Santelises, will discuss publicly the study’s findings, at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Enoch Pratt Free Library’s branch at 1531 W. North Ave.
A previous version of this story misstated who appoints members of the Interagency Commission on School Construction. The nine members are appointed by the governor, lawmakers and other state officials. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.