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Court Filing Seeks Hundreds of Millions for Baltimore Schools

Twenty-four years ago, a judge ordered fundamental changes to the way Baltimore City Public Schools are managed and funded. The ruling, the result of a 1994 lawsuit, led to Maryland’s current public school funding formula.

Then over the next decade, the court issued more opinions, saying that Baltimore students continued to be shortchanged.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a motion in Baltimore City Circuit Court to reopen that 1994 lawsuit. In the filing, they accuse Maryland of violating the state constitution by underfunding Baltimore City schools.

Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, says the state gives city schools hundreds of millions of dollars less than they need every year.

“The state has failed to provide adequate funding while a generation of students have been denied the education that they deserve under the Maryland constitution,” he said.

He noted that nearly 80 percent of the students in Baltimore City Public Schools are African American.

The underfunding affects what happens in the classrooms, but also school buildings.
Problems range from broken heating and a lack of air conditioning to water that isn’t safe to drink.

“Now that backlog of deferred maintenance, as well as deterioration in the actual physical condition of the schools, has led to a situation where it would take over $1 billion to actually fix the schools,” Quereshi said.

The state Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — nicknamed the “Kirwan Commission,” for its chairman, former University Systems of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan — plans to release a new school funding formula by the end of this year, but that’s two years later than originally expected.

Meanwhile, the commission also recommended sweeping education policy changes. The General Assembly is considering those now, but Quereshi said the outcome is still uncertain.

“First, there’s a question of whether or not the legislation will actually be passed, and then second, it’s a question of whether or not it will meet the significant backlog in Baltimore City with regards to not only operational funding but the large gap with regards to facilities funding, as well,” he said.

In a statement, Baltimore City Public Schools said it backs the move to reopen the case.  “Baltimore’s children have already waited too long for the education funding they deserve and that is promised to them and to all children in Maryland by state law,” the statement reads.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Brian Frosh said the office had not received a copy of the filing and therefore couldn’t comment.

Representatives of the Senate President and House Speaker also declined to comment.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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