State lawmakers have put city residents on notice that they could face an uphill battle in Annapolis next year in advocating for key issues facing Baltimore's public schools, particularly the need for more funding to carry out critical reforms.
In an often-tense three-hour public forum held Saturday by the education subcommittee of the city delegation, Baltimore residents, advocates and education leaders sounded off on the pressing issues facing the school district that they hoped would shape the city's legislative agenda next session.
Among the biggest issues was the funding of a $1 billion renovation of the school system's infrastructure that will leave more than 100 buildings untouched, and the general lack of resources needed to educate children who carry the challenges of their violent, impoverished neighborhoods into their classrooms every day.
"In Baltimore right now, we're all fighting over the same scraps," said K.C. Kelleher of the Baltimore Education Coalition, echoing a common sentiment that education funding should be a top priority.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the city needed to expand its lobbying efforts to help lawmakers representing the rest of the state — who may want their own $1 billion facilities plans — understand its plight.
She pointed out that, even in the face of mounting pressure, Gov. Larry Hogan has refused to release more money to education, and withheld $11 million from the city.
"We now have a governor who is not as sensitive to the Baltimore schools issues as they've been in the past," McIntosh said.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor has demonstrated commitment to the city in his first nine months, in shutting down the "horrendous" Baltimore Men's Detention Center, proposing a transportation plan, and in taking "decisive action to end the riots."
He said Hogan also recently announced that next year the administration will fully fund the Geographic Cost of Education Index, a school funding formula that helps districts where the cost of education is higher.
"Baltimore needs leaders who are willing to break from the politics of the past and fight for a better future, and that is what the governor and this administration will continue to do," Mayer said.
McIntosh encouraged residents to make their voices heard in the city's mayoral and council elections next year, pointing out that the city contributes less money to its schools than any other jurisdiction in the state.
Lawmakers also raised the fact that tax breaks the city has approved for developers have reduced the amount of education funding money the city receives in the state.
"The Baltimore City government could be doing a lot more for their schools than they are," McIntosh said.
Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, responded to that claim by pointing to a list of ways — like community schools, youth jobs, and early-childhood education — the mayor has invested in city students during her tenure.
"We appreciate the concerns expressed by some members of the delegation," Libit wrote in a statement. "This administration makes significant investments in a wide range of youth priorities from cradle to career."
He also said that the mayor's proposal to sell downtown parking garages to fund her $136 million recreation center capital plan, which is waiting for a hearing from the City Council, was evidence of her continuing commitment.
The public was also invited to sound off on other issues facing the district.
Baltimore City schools CEO Gregory Thornton attended the forum, where he pushed a recently released five-year strategic plan for the district.
Maryland Policy & Politics
But many who attended said that they wanted more immediate action on issues like a plan for the city school police that has been promised for months, class sizes that have swelled to nearly 40 students, and equal funding for the city's neighborhood and charter schools.
Other residents said that money wasn't the problem but rather the school system's inability to follow through on strategies to best use existing resources, and improve instruction and teacher quality.
"If we're being brutally honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge there's no quick fixes," Thornton said.
Del. Cheryl Glenn, chair of the delegation's education subcommittee, also told the crowd that the call for more accountability in the district has grown louder recently — and the city could come out of the next legislative session as the 22nd of Maryland's 24 districts to have a partially elected school board.
"This is not personal — this is about process," Glenn said. "It's glaringly obvious we need to change our process."