IN THE LONG-STANDING effort to secure more state funding for Baltimore schools, the recent ruling from Maryland's Court of Appeals is hardly a milestone, and declarations of victory by the state or by city schools' advocates are premature. Although the court did not agree to stretch out elimination of the school system's deficit, it kept other legal questions, including the state's financial obligation to city schools, very much alive.
Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan has been monitoring city schools since 1996, after finding that the system was not receiving enough funds to provide an adequate education as required by the state constitution. His ruling, reinforced in 2000, led to the Thornton Commission and hundreds of millions in promised additional spending for education across the state.
Last year, in the wake of the school system's deficit and cash-flow crisis, advocates for more state funding objected that plans to balance the system's budget in 2006 threatened the schools' academic integrity. In August, Judge Kaplan basically agreed, finding that the state was still shortchanging the city by at least $225 million a year and suggesting that Thornton funding for city schools should be accelerated.
The state appealed, questioning whether Judge Kaplan's ruling was final and, if so, whether it was right. The Court of Appeals has now said that, with two exceptions, the ruling was not final. The court reversed Judge Kaplan's order that the school system be given more time to eliminate the deficit and agreed with his order that the school system pay back a short-term loan from the city on schedule. But the appeals court left the core issues of whether the state is adequately funding city schools and how well the schools are being managed in Judge Kaplan's hands.
Instead of pointing fingers, the state should try to work out a financial solution with the other parties that best serves city schoolchildren. At the least, it should push for more of the Thornton money to come to city schools sooner.