The city's Board of Estimates has approved hiring a well-known Washington law firm to help with a school-funding lawsuit against the state.
The board yesterday approved spending as much as $29,000 to hire Hogan and Hartson, a Washington law firm that represents about 30 school districts across the nation in a variety of school-funding and desegregation actions.
For now, the firm is being paid to help city lawyers collect information, conduct legal research and prepare a draft of a suit. If the city decides to move forward, it will pay the firm another fee, according to a memo that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sent to the Board of Estimates.
Last week, Mr. Schmoke said that the city will sue the state over school funding, a move that angered some state legislators but heartened many education advocates who for years have argued that city schools are underfunded.
"The disparities between school systems in Maryland are worse in 1992 than they were in 1986," Mr. Schmoke said.
Susan Goering, legal director of the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union, which has been researching a possible lawsuit against the state, said a suit against Maryland would likely be precedent-setting because it would focus squarely on whether Baltimore schools are funded well enough to provide a "thorough and efficient" education as required in the state constitution.
Several other education lawsuits filed against states around the country have focused on a combination of funding-equity issues and the constitutional question of adequacy, she said.
In 1983, a city-led suit that focused on spending disparities between the city and wealthy counties in Maryland failed.
Legal experts said an ACLU lawsuit is likely to be filed in addition to a city lawsuit, with the ACLU naming students and parents as plaintiffs, while the city would be the plaintiff in its suit. Even if two suits are eventually filed, they will likely be tried together, experts said.