Parents, Civil Rights Groups Sue Maryland For Underfunding Public Schools
The State of Maryland is facing fresh allegations of failing to adequately fund Baltimore Schools, according to a brief jointly filed by parents, American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and NAACP Legal Defense fund on Thursday, March 7.
“We must invest in our future leaders, which is our children today!” Angela Gant, mother of two children currently in Baltimore City Public Schools said in a press release “Our children have the right to a great education. They need access to the tutoring and support resources in schools that help them learn and thrive.”
The plaintiffs, representing parents like Grant, argue the state is in violation of an agreement reached in Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education, which found the state had failed to fulfill its obligations regarding funding for education outlined in Article VIII of the Maryland constitution.
“I would like our leaders to know that students in Baltimore also have a dream, and just because some of us aren’t rich enough to have those dreams come true doesn’t mean they should be taken away from us,” said Deshawna Bryant, a senior at City College High School in Baltimore. “The fact that we don’t have heating or air conditioning or all this funding, takes away from those dreams and it makes it harder for people to want to go to college.”
Baltimore City Public Schools has an annual operating budget of $1.3 billion, which is the 4th highest among the 100 largest school districts in the country. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) frequently cites this statistic to argue that Baltimore is not underfunded, rather mismanaged. This was the same argument the state, under Democratic leadership in the 1990s, made against allegations of historic underfunding. Courts ruled in the favor of the plaintiffs, forcing Maryland to increase funding for public schools.
“Our children cannot wait any longer,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. “For decades, the State of Maryland has abdicated its responsibility to provide adequate funding for both instruction and to address the abysmal physical condition of school facilities in Baltimore City.”
The Bradford lawsuit, filed in 1994, led to the creation of the Thornton Commission, which mandated increased school funding during the 2000s. But funding increases tapered off during the Great Recession under then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). A 2015 Department of Legislative Services study found this caused Baltimore City Public Schools to lose $358 million dollars a year. Another state-commissioned study cited by the Kirwan Commission found Baltimore City schools needed $290 million more annually.
Public school advocates note Baltimore has a large concentration of students living in poverty and high needs students, which require more money for education. Baltimore also has the oldest building stock in the state. The 2012 Jacobs Report found 80% of buildings were in “poor condition.”
Hogan also frequently cites “record funding” of public schools under his tenure, but as the Baltimore Sun and others have pointed out, this is largely due to the fact that school funding is linked to enrollment numbers, and enrollment has been rising across the state.
This week, legislators introduced bills that would begin funding at the levels recommended by the Kirwan Commission in the Kirwan Commission. The recommendations would not only change school funding formulas, but revamp curriculum, teacher assessment, early childhood education, and more. The recommendations would be phased in over 10 years, to the tune of $3.8 billion a year—something critics like Gov. Hogan have said are too expensive.
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford responded to the news by tweeting: “More money will not address the current issues without innovation and greater accountability for the money being spent!” Twitter users were quick to cite peer-reviewed, longitudinal studies that found increased investment in historically underfunded school districts correlated with increased student achievement and graduation rates. Parents, students, and community groups routinely call for more transparency from Baltimore City schools, and some have questioned whether the proposals backed by the administration—including loosening regulations on charter schools—would increase accountability, or have the opposite effect.
Last year, voters approved a ballot measure that would require casino revenue be used to supplement current public education funding. The governor has proposed using a portion of this casino revenue to fund a $1.9 billion initiative for new school construction.
But the ACLU and NAACP-LDF argue that Kirwan, the recommendations from which were delayed by two years, would not give Baltimore students necessary funding soon enough to remedy past underfunding.
By some estimates, Baltimore City schools have been shortchanged at least $3 billion dollars since the 1996 Bradford ruling, and the schools face $3 billion dollars in backlogged construction funding.
“For decades the State of Maryland has allowed Baltimore City schools to deteriorate, failing to provide the needed funding to give thousands of African-American and Latinx students the quality education they deserve,” said Ajmel Quereshi, LDF Senior Counsel. “The State must take meaningful action to ensure that Baltimore City schools are safe, functional, and have the adequate staffing and infrastructure in place so students can learn and thrive.”
In 1993, Baltimore’s deadliest year on record, Maryland Law Review warned of the consequences of the state failing its constitutionally, morally, and economically required responsibility to educate its students. “The need for educational reform in Maryland is great. Such change inevitably bears a price tag that residents must either agree to pay now or face the twenty-first century with a diminished potential for prosperity.”
Last year, Baltimore was named America’s deadliest city. Today Baltimore has lost half a million in population since its peak, and is projected to lose a thousand more students in the upcoming decade, draining the system of badly needed revenue. The legislature has promised increased funding for Baltimore’s police department, but it’s unclear how much additional resources will be given to Baltimore schools.We reached out to Gov. Hogan’s office for comment,, and will update this story with their response.