Almost a year to the day after Baltimore City Public Schools made national headlines by cancelling classes in schools riddled with freezing rooms and bursting pipes, Gov. Larry Hogan announced his plan to set aside millions of dollars for charter school facilities in the state (“Gov. Larry Hogan announces plan to boost charter schools in Maryland,” Jan. 23).
Governor Hogan — who has consistently underfunded Baltimore schools — plans to take $1.2 million from the state’s Healthy School Facility Fund and redirect it exclusively to charter schools. These dollars are desperately needed for priority schools in need of critical heating and cooling repairs and should not be taken away.
Mr. Hogan also plans to spend $2.6 million in his fiscal year 2020 budget for charter school construction and has introduced legislation to establish an additional $1,600 per pupil in funding through the Maryland State Department of Education exclusively for charter schools. These additional per-pupil dollars would add to a per-pupil allocation that is already thousands of dollars higher for charter schools than for traditional schools — exacerbating an inequitable distribution of resources.
As last winter made abundantly clear, city school facilities are in a state of crisis. More than 100 public school buildings need renovation or replacement. In many Baltimore schools, the water is undrinkable. HVAC and other essential systems need significant investments. Instead of investing in the children of Baltimore, the governor has offered annual budget battles and doomsday scenarios. He has failed to address the $3 billion debt owed to city schools by the state. To now seek to divert millions of dollars away from school district priorities to line-jump construction for quasi-public school facilities is to add insult to injury. There is a long line for facilities improvements in Baltimore and charter schools should not be allowed to cut to the front.
Charter operators knew when they applied to start a school that no capital funds would be provided to them if they operated in a private building. Charter schools in public school buildings have received millions of dollars in school system renovations and have access to the same extremely limited funding for building repair and renovations as all other public schools.
Baltimore charter schools have benefited from private funds, foundation money and at least $32 million in federal grant money for facilities over the last ten years. Charter schools also have the unique ability – not afforded to traditional schools – to roll over unspent funding year to year, allowing a charter school to save millions of dollars for facility renovations or improvements.
In the past, some Baltimore charter schools operating in private buildings have asked for access to financial resources from the state’s annual Capital Improvement Program and for exemption from paying their fair share of the school system’s debt service costs. Allowing public tax dollars, whether through the CIP or a per-pupil facilities allowance, to be used to improve private facilities puts those dollars at risk of permanent loss. If a school lost its charter status or closed, tax funds used to improve that privately-owned building would be lost to the public.
Charter schools in private buildings should not get a special status while public city school buildings fall apart and existing school programs are closed.
As a basic matter of fairness and equity, all schools in the public system must pay their share of the costs of maintaining and improving the public system regardless of which schools directly benefit from those efforts. Many schools in the system go years, sometimes decades, without benefiting from building improvements financed through the school system. All public schools have to pay their fair share of facilities debt service costs and all public school — charter and traditional — must participate as equals in the process of capital improvements.
Governor Hogan’s plan to divert millions of facilities dollars to charter schools and raise the charter per-pupil over the head of the local school district is nothing less than an attack on BCPSS and the children it serves. Baltimore charter operators must publicly withdraw their support for Mr. Hogan’s charter facility funding plans if they wish to stand in solidarity with the rest of Baltimore’s families in our struggle to obtain adequate funding for education and the schools all of our children deserve.
Ben Dalbey, Matt Prestbury and Edit Barry, Baltimore
The writers are Baltimore public school parents.