In the first two weeks of the 2021-2022 school year, two dozen Baltimore City Schools that lack functioning air conditioning closed early five times due to high temperatures. The rising threat of COVID-19 variants, which are becoming increasingly transmissible in indoor unventilated spaces, has created a new sense of urgency in Baltimore among educators and activists who are calling on elected officials to support a bill they say would finally address those long standing issues.
The Green New Deal in Public Schools is a ten-year, $1.43 trillion dollar proposal introduced by former public school principal Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) in July. The goal of the legislation is to fight climate change by upgrading every public school in the country with green infrastructure, addressing historic inequities by focusing resources on high-need schools, providing resources to create culturally relevant curriculum, and funding the training of hundreds of thousands of additional educators.
“The Green New Deal for Public Schools represents the level of school infrastructure investment that is urgent and necessary to heal the harm from decades of disinvestment, redlining and cycles of poverty and trauma, particularly for Black and brown children,” Bowman said in a press release.
School districts like those in Baltimore, which have long faced systemic underfunding, would stand to benefit from the proposal. Hundreds of Baltimore public school students have already lost instructional time due to failing infrastructure this year, and an estimated 1.2 millions of hours were lost over the previous five years, a 2019 Johns Hopkins report found: “Extremes of temperatures are associated with difficulty concentrating, asthma attacks, and the worsening of other health conditions,” the report said.
West Baltimore’s Coppin Academy has a working AC and didn’t dismiss early due to high heat, but 12th grade teacher Madeleine Monson-Rosen, says she and her students still feel the impacts of underfunding, something the proposal’s $250 billion in Resource Block Grants could help address.
“My school doesn’t have enough classroom space, so I teach in a different room every period. I intrude on other teachers’ meeting and planning time, and I don’t have space to work closely with students who need it. I carry my supplies around in a crate and have to use class time to get myself situated in each classroom,” Monson-Rosen told Battleground Baltimore.
Monson-Rosen is a member of the Greater Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America (GBDSA), which has urged elected officials to back the Green New Deal for Public Schools.
“When I think about what the legislation means to me, it actually just means the space to do my job,” Monson-Rosen said. “I know many other teachers in Baltimore in similar—or worse—situations.”
Activists have launched a letter writing campaign to win the support of Rep. Kwesi Mfume, the representative for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District and a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. Mfume has publicly backed the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion dollar infrastructure package that allocates just $100 billion for public schools.
Divided among the nation’s 100,000 K-12 schools, that equals $10,000 per school. Baltimore City Schools estimates it needs an additional $350 million in capital and maintenance spending annually to maintain national standards.
“Across the country our public schools are underfunded, segregated, toxic, and crumbling. The story is no different here in Baltimore City. Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions,and every parent knows a child’s environment is critical to their health,” Matt Lewis, co-chair of the Green New Deal Campaign Committee of the GBDSA told Battleground Baltimore. “Throughout this pandemic teachers and support staff have shouldered a large burden for our communities. This legislation would ensure our schools are safe classrooms and safe workplaces.”
Lewis noted that Mfume’s district contains 62% of Baltimore schools that would qualify for a portion of the $446 billion in Climate Capital Facilities Grants and low interest loans from the federal government—if the Green New Deal for Public Schools were to pass.
The legislation could be transformative, Monson-Rosen explained.
“Our schools are overcrowded and under-resourced in terms of curriculum and materials. Artists, teachers, and scholars could get good union jobs, and students could be exposed to cutting-edge work in every field, and real, vital curricula anchored in their experience and their communities. Every part of education could truly be transformed,” she said. “Students really feel that the poor infrastructure means that Baltimore doesn’t care about its students. The Green New Deal for Public Schools is just a way of saying we care about children.”
ARPA Funds Soon Available For Baltimore Nonprofits
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and City Council President Nick Mosby spent this week signaling that they are ready and willing to spend the city’s allotment of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, money from the federal government that is intended to address the huge financial strain the COVID-19 pandemic put on the nation.
Baltimore will receive $641 million in funding. The first infusion of the money happened this past spring. The rest of the money will come in mid-2022.
Earlier this summer, Scott announced that he was establishing the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs which, his administration says, will work to make sure the money is properly overseen and distributed. This Monday, he announced that starting Oct. 1, Baltimore nonprofits will be able to apply for ARPA funds.
“In a city like Baltimore with deep systemic challenges even before the pandemic, we must be strategic and targeted in our approach—with an eye toward making a definitive, measured impact on our city through a lens of equity,” Scott said.
Also this week, Mosby introduced legislation that he said would add another layer of oversight to ARPA spending.
“The Council will review the investment strategy by the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs and the Department of Finance to ensure this one-time infusion of federal funding stands the best chance of creating transformative change in our communities,” a press release sent out by Mosby’s office said. “The oversight will focus on whether the investment is being used effectively to address our city’s inequities, as well as to guarantee the spending is administered in a timely manner. The legislation also calls for the funding to be tracked and for frequent spending statements to be issued publicly.”
We know that both Scott and Mosby are versed in nonprofit-speak, but will the right organizations actually get the money? Battleground Baltimore has already addressed the ongoing conflict of interest presented by the City Council president’s marriage to State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and that conflict has only gotten worse with the announcement of a federal investigation into the couple’s financial dealings. They recently launched a fundraiser to pay for anticipated legal bills as a result of that investigation. Scott has said as little as possible about this issue.
Considering Baltimore’s long history of financial mismanagement and corruption, it will take a village of journalists and citizens to make sure that this money is actually used effectively.
Speed Camera Revenue Used To Fund the Police
The Baltimore Police Department just got some more money. Another $6.5 million was approved at the Board of Estimates meeting held on Sept. 15. The funds will balance the police budget for the 2021 fiscal year and account for hazard pay.
The city actually has a surplus of nearly $9 million for this past fiscal year (which ended on June 30) mostly thanks to federal funding. But the city chose not to use federal funding to account for this $6.5 million they say is needed for the police budget. Instead, the $6.5 is coming from revenue generated by speed cameras—a decision Jed Weeks of the organization Bikemore spoke out against during Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting.
Weeks pointed out that the city has been through all of this before. Last year, Bikemore spoke out against $2 million for the city’s free bus, the Baltimore City Circulator, being used to further fund the police instead.
“Here we are a year later with the knowledge of the pandemic and related expenditures, we continue with yet another supplemental appropriation for the police department,” Weeks said.
As Battleground Baltimore has reported, the Baltimore Police Department received an additional $22.5 million in funding back in June, despite growing calls from residents to defund the police. Moreover, speed and red light cameras are a way to enforce the law that reduces police responsibilities. Many defund advocates have argued that getting the police out of traffic enforcement both frees police up to focus on other crimes and reduces the likelihood of police harming or killing people. Instead, Baltimore is now using speed cameras to generate more money for the police.
“Speed and red light cameras have been well-studied across the country and in our state, and they are clearly shown to reduce injury crashes and deaths of people walking, biking, riding, transit and driving,” Weeks said. “They’re a proven effective enforcement tool that can be deployed without racial bias and without threat of armed police escalating traffic enforcement into a violent encounter.”
The use of speed camera revenue to fund the police is especially egregious because this revenue is intended, Weeks argued, to fund safer streets for drivers and pedestrians alike.
“Revenues generated by speeding red light cameras under state law are to be used for public safety improvements, including pedestrian safety programs,” Weeks said. “The intent here is clearly for revenue of cameras to be used for physical improvements to infrastructure that slow down cars, make roads safer, and reduce the need for cameras to exist for enforcement altogether.”
The $6.5 million for the police was approved, with City Budget Director Robert Cenname arguing that since the funds can be used for “public safety,” that includes the police.
As Battleground Baltimore reported last month, Baltimore police make a disproportionate number of traffic stops in some of the city’s least wealthy, majority Black neighborhoods.
“We can’t accept the continued theft of desperately needed transportation dollars by the Baltimore City Police Department,” Weeks said. “If approved, this transfer will disproportionately harm our poorest Black and Latino residents.”