The ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund are calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to provide more funds for Baltimore schools, saying the state is failing to provide the kind of education the city’s children are entitled to under the state’s constitution.
In a bluntly worded letter sent this week, the two organizations say that by the state’s own studies city schoolchildren are getting $290 million less than needed to provide them with an “adequate” education as is required by Maryland’s constitution.
“We are calling on the state to finally meet its constitutional obligation to the children of the city of Baltimore to make sure they are addressing the compounding effects of decades of chronic racial disparities in educational funding,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland. She argues that those disparities are apparent in both the educational programs and substandard school buildings and that they have been “holding black and brown children back from their highest potential for years.”
In the letter, the organizations remind the governor that a lawsuit filed in 1994 over school funding is still open in the Baltimore Circuit Court. The judge found in that case — Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education — that the state had not provided enough funds for schools. In 2000 he ruled that the state should add about $2,600 more for each student.
“Our hope is that the governor and the state will work productively with us to come to a resolution, but if the state doesn’t, we have the full intention of seeing the issue through,” said Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The governor said he has not yet seen the letter. “I can’t imagine what it would be about. For the fifth year in a row, we record-funded education. We again provided increased funding for every single jurisdiction in Maryland,” Hogan said.
While the lawsuit sought aid for the city, it had far-reaching consequences for the rest of the state’s public school students.
Feeling pressure from the courts, the state appointed the Thornton Commission, which rewrote the funding formula and recommended a steep increase in state aid to schools across the state. In 2002, the legislature passed the new Thornton formula providing $1.3 billion more annually in education funding to schools across Maryland. But that formula, the ACLU argues, was subsequently changed by the legislature so that the funding did not increase each year to cover inflation. If it had continued to increase, the city would now be getting $290 million more a year, according to a 2015 evaluation by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. “This means that … Baltimore City schools are well behind where they were when the Bradford court last assessed the inadequacy of state educational funding,” the letter said.
The Thornton formula was supposed to be updated, but the legislature put that review off for several years until it appointed a second commission — the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission — two years ago. Last week the commission approved a sweeping plan that would give students $3.8 billion more a year in education funding by 2030. The plan calls for state and local governments to split the increase, although no recommendations have been made yet on the proportion each side would pay. The letter says that under the Kirwan plan, city schools would get an additional $358 million a year annually.
That letter says the Kirwan Commission’s final recommendations should not be delayed another year, as planned by legislative leaders. In addition, the organizations want the governor to give more attention to improving outdated facilities.
Hogan defended his record on education spending Wednesday.
“The legislative formulas called for cutting Baltimore City by $11 million. We increased. No governor in the history of the state has ever invested more in education. I have no idea what the ACLU is talking about, but I’m pretty sure it’s a frivolous letter. Maybe they’re suing us for spending too much money on education? I’m not sure. I’m happy to read the letter.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.