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  February 15, 2017

On Valentine's Day, Baltimore Restores Free Bus Passes For Students


Corporations, nonprofits and citizens raised tens of thousands of dollars to restore free bus passes for students to attend after school programs but advocates knowledge its a temporary fix to a systemic problem of under-funding city school services
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On Valentine's Day, Baltimore Restores Free Bus Passes For StudentsJAISAL NOOR: On Valentine's Day, city council people, advocates, parents and students presented what they say is a Valentine's Day gift to Baltimore City public school students.

ZEK COHEN: I'm proud to announce, that our Valentine to the children of Baltimore is, that just five weeks after our hearing, we have secured the funding to get all of our kids back on the bus.

SHAWNTAY GUY: I work a full-time job and a part-time job, and I need to figure out how he's going to get home, after this program. Of course, I'm going to allow him to participate in the program, even if it means that I have to leave work and pick him up, or if he has to wait after school for longer periods of time than he normally would, for other events, for me to pick him up. Or I've got to find somebody to pick him up.

So, fast-forward to this past weekend, and I get a call from Councilman Cowan. He and I talked for a bit and we... he tells me that we've secured the money for extending bus riding time for our children. I was shocked, and proud, and grateful, kind of all balled up together at once. I sit on the phone, and I think about my family not having to make a choice, between my son taking the bus home, or being able to take advantage of this program at his school.

I also think about all of our children, being able to take advantage of programs that further their developmental needs, their educational goals, and their community ties. I think about how all of us came together to make this happen, as a city.

How Baltimorean children, parents, council members, business owners, community groups and non-profit organizations, rose to the occasion. Demonstrating love, support, ingenuity and creativity, to get our kids back on the bus.

JAISAL NOOR: Since last year, the MTA's cut funding for students to ride buses for free after 6:00 p.m., which many use for recreational after-school activities. As The Real News has reported, the cutting of free bus rides has affected many students. More than 60% of them are low income, and some 90% qualify for free, or reduced lunches.

RAEKWON REDDING: Well, see, my mother, she works a full-time job during the week, and on the weekends she works part-time. So, it's complicated for me, considering the fact that the bus passes don't always work the way I would need them to. So, for me, what would take about an hour to get to one place, may take two hours, if I have to walk, and that complicates everything for me.

And it's a big stress ball to my mother, who cares a lot, and it's very dangerous growing up in the city.

JAISAL NOOR: City Council members, students and teachers, have been holding bake sales to help raise the some 100,000 dollars, needed to restore the bus passes for students. Overall, the school system faces a $130 million budget deficit, and a thousand teachers in aid, may be laid off this year, as a result. The Real News is covering a rally against those, also happening today.

KRIS BURNET: I disagree that it's only a band-aid, I mean, it's a big deal, for... especially for after-school programs this year. And the more kids we can get involved right now, it really matters. I agree though, that there is a bigger issue, that we're dealing with right now, as it relate to the budget.

I think part of the conversation has to be how the state funding formula works in the first place, because we are impacted by, one, tips and pilots, that predated our council, but two,...

JAISAL NOOR: Those are the tax breaks for...

KRIS BURNET: ...tax breaks for developers. And so, a larger conversation about how we do development, where we do development and the impact that has on our school system, I think has to happen moving forward. How we calculate the formula, one of the things that is missing is an assessment of concentrated poverty. I mean, and to be frank, our kids deal with the most. We have the most kids that receive free and reduced lunch. We have, you know, the most disabled students. We have ESU students.

I mean, the challenges that we face here in Baltimore City, are so different than what folks are dealing with in Montgomery County. Yet every single year, it seems like they're getting everything that they need...

JAISAL NOOR: I think it's important to say, that it's the product of historic inequity. It's an intentional policy as well.

KRIS BURNET: Right, right. And so, that's the conversation that we need to have, is how do we bring money in? How do we calculate the need? There's always a conversation around -- do our kids get too much? When we know that really, the 15,000 or so, I don't know the number off-hand, that per pupil spending that we get, is not enough here in the city.

And so, there are larger conversations that we have to have, about school funding. Where it comes from, and how do we really meet the needs for our kids. The challenge that we have on the Council is that, it's not under our purview.

And so, I do plan to go to Annapolis. I know my colleagues plan to go to Annapolis, to deliver a testimony to join the fight to restore funding this year. I think it's $42 million, that was cut from this year's school budget by Governor Hogan, which is unacceptable. And but, then moving forward, making sure that we have everything that we need, to really meet the needs of our kids.

JAISAL NOOR: For more, check out The Real News.com. This is Jaisal Noor.

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