How to end Baltimore schools' annual funding crisis for good

The passage of legislation required for the "Bridge to Kirwan" city school funding was due in no small part to the effective organization, advocacy and activism demonstrated by the Baltimore community. Thanks to passionate parents, students, principals, teachers and coalitions citywide, we have secured enough city and state funding to prevent a portion of the drastic cuts forecast at Baltimore City Public Schools for the next three years. This is evidence that the voice of the people can and does have an impact on public policy decisions, and we are grateful to the city and state representatives who took the time to listen.

The Baltimore Education Coalition recognizes the efforts of Mayor Catherine Pugh, Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh, and members of the Baltimore City delegation to develop the "Bridge to Kirwan" funding package to provide $180 million to city schools over the next three years. Although passage of the package was a success, we also recognize that city principals have been given budgets that reflect a remaining $30 million-40 million gap in addition to the $30 million in budget adjustments that city schools' central office is forced to make. We now look to Mayor Pugh to work with City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young to find at least the $10 million that he pledged to city schools from the police department's budget, and to guarantee that the $10 million, like the other funds, will be added to city schools' budget for the next three years.

Baltimore City residents are fed up with the serial underfunding of their schools. Year after year they are forced to fight for basic funding and do not even receive that. But our children need more than just the basics. We need the appropriate resources to create the kind of schools that any parent would want their child to attend. And this funding must be sustained so that principals can develop and maintain high quality academic programs.

So, how do we ensure that children get what they need to succeed and move away from the annual funding crises?

We know that with smart decisions and investments, children in Baltimore City Public Schools can do well. With an eye toward the future, city schools made the investment in full-day pre-Kindergarten. Now city students are scoring above the statewide average on Kindergarten assessments. Graduation rates have gone up over the past decade while suspensions have gone down. Some "community schools" with wrap-around supports have moved from the lowest-performing to the highest performing. But chronic underfunding limits the initiatives that city schools need to undertake to support children from economically distressed and sometimes violent neighborhoods.

We can move from the annual budget crises by addressing the root cause of city schools' structural budget deficit. Maryland's state Constitution guarantees children an adequate education as measured by contemporary educational standards. The "Thornton" education funding formula, adopted in 2002, was provoked by legal rulings in the ACLU of Maryland's education lawsuit on behalf of Baltimore City parents. The goal of the formula was to ensure that all Maryland school districts reached adequate funding levels to support children in meeting state standards.

But in 2007 and 2008, as new funding was finally phased in, the recession prompted the state to cut back the original formula's mandated increases. This resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions in funding intended for city schools. Over the past nine years, costs like health care and energy have risen dramatically, but state funding has not increased, leading to city schools' structural deficit. State analysts have documented that city schools would be getting an additional $290 million per year had the Thornton formula not been changed.

The state is now re-evaluating the education formula to determine what resources are necessary to meet its constitutional obligation. The state's consultants for this new "Kirwan Commission" have already weighed in on the additional amount they judge that city schools needs per year: $358 million, given the state's mandate of meeting the more rigorous Common Core standards.

Thanks to the "Bridge to Kirwan," a portion of the drastic cuts in staff, programs and services that would have occurred as a result of a $130 million deficit have been averted with the package intended to stabilize city schools for the next three years. The fight for adequate funding now shifts into high gear toward the 2018 legislative session as we advocate for a revised funding formula for Baltimore's children, so that the foundation for a high quality education system can be laid for the next generation of students.

Frank Patinella of the ACLU of Maryland and Sharicca Boldon of Strong City Baltimore are the co-chairs of the Baltimore Education Coalition. They can be reached at baltimoreedcoalition@gmail.com.

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