Don't reduce city schools' capital funding

Baltimore should be proud of its tremendous achievement to secure approximately $1 billion to fully rebuild and renovate up to 28 school buildings over the next 5 years — the first phase of the city schools' 21st Century Buildings program. This is the single largest investment in schools and neighborhoods in Baltimore's history, and city advocates and leaders are enthusiastically engaged in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make these schools transformative for students, families and communities. But what about the other 100-plus city school buildings — the oldest in the state — that have critical needs that will not be covered by the $1 billion program?

These older schools, with faulty heating systems, leaky roofs and antiquated fire alarm systems are dependent on a different source of funding — annual state capital funding for school construction. Alarmingly, the city's share of this state program's funding appears to be threatened. We cannot allow the existence of the visionary 21st Century Buildings program to come at the expense of the city's other aging schools.


Over the past decade, the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) has given city schools between $32 million and $35 million annually, or 11 percent to 12 percent of the total state school construction budget. This allotment is similar to the amounts allocated to the other large districts in Maryland. Of the 64 projects on the city schools' list for state funding this year, 62 are to repair systems to keep schools at least minimally functional and safe for students and teachers: installing new fire safety systems, replacing leaking roofs and repairing old boilers.

These types of deficiencies have been well documented dating back a decade, when a state commission led by Treasurer Nancy Kopp released a report that showed an enormous disparity in school facility conditions statewide. And not much has changed; Baltimore City still has the oldest and most deficient school buildings in the state. Since 2005, the state increased school construction funding statewide, but the distribution of those dollars has not targeted districts with the most deficiencies. In fact, all large school districts generally have received about the same amount of state funding, despite the disparity in building conditions and the ability of higher wealth counties to fund school construction locally.


After recognizing the city's urgent need, the state legislature rightfully adopted Transform Baltimore: Build Schools, Build Neighborhoods campaign's proposal to leverage $1 billion now to begin rebuilding city schools. However, the state must also recognize that this program will not touch 100-plus other school buildings that are in "very poor" condition according to industry standards. Baltimore City will not be able to catch up if the state provides funding for the 21st Century Buildings program with one hand and takes away annual capital funding with the other.

It is important to understand the complexity of the 21st Century Buildings program. The state did not write a check for $1 billion to city schools, as some might think. State law locks in $60 million annually for the program — $20 million each from the state, city government and city schools — which the Maryland Stadium Authority will use to issue bonds that should raise close to $1 billion. Thus, two-thirds of the program is being paid for by local sources, which includes a 5-cent city tax on beverage containers. In addition to contributing that $20 million annually, the city school system is required to dig deeper into its operating budget to double its maintenance funding to $30 million each year to ensure mechanical systems, roofs and other capital projects reach their full life term. The state is also requiring that the school system close 26 schools to "right size" its inventory due to enrollment loss over the past decades. Mayor Rawlings-Blake has recognized the desperate needs of 100-plus school buildings and has committed to continuing the city's traditional $17 million in capital funds for repairs. In light of requiring all of this local effort, it would be unfair and irresponsible for the state to consider reducing its own effort to city schools.

While city schools continue to make internal changes to improve their ability to manage and coordinate capital projects, the state IAC should not reduce state capital funding to Baltimore. Doing so would only serve to hurt city students and teachers. The Baltimore Education Coalition calls upon the state IAC to give city schools their regular allotment of capital funding: 11 percent to 12 percent of the total state budget for school construction. Other Maryland districts should get their fair share as well — a win-win for all children in the state.

Frank Patinella is an education advocate for the ACLU of Maryland and a leader of the Baltimore Education Coalition and Transform Baltimore: Build Schools, Build Neighborhoods campaign. His email is patinella@