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Students, parents, and the ACLU and NAACP-LDF are suing Maryland for under-funding Baltimore’s majority black school district

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DESHAWNA BRYANT, 18-YEAR-OLD SENIOR AT CITY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL: We’ve had multiple times where the ceiling has fallen down, where there’s been holes in the walls, where it’s hard to get rid of the rats in the basement and everything, and it’s hard to heat and cool the building because of how large it is.

JAISAL NOOR: Troubling conditions inside Baltimore City schools frequently go viral. Now a group of students, parents, and civil rights organizations are suing to make the state do something about it.

AJMEL QUERESHI, SENIOR COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: By the state’s own data, over 80 percent of the city’s schools are in poor or very poor condition. By the state’s own data, almost $300 million are not given to the city’s schools every single year. By the city’s data, there’s a shortfall of $3 billion to improve the facilities in the city’s schools.

JAISAL NOOR: High school senior Deshawna Bryant suffers from sickle cell anemia.

DESHAWNA BRYANT, 18-YEAR-OLD SENIOR AT CITY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL: One thing that sets my disease off is low temperatures. If I’m too cold, then my body will shut down and I can go into a pain crisis.

JAISAL NOOR: And has been hospitalized multiple times because of extreme cold in her classroom.

DESHAWNA BRYANT, 18-YEAR-OLD SENIOR AT CITY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL: That sets up a bad environment for me, because it’ll send me into a pain crisis, and then I’ll have to go to the hospital.

JAISAL NOOR: The heat frequently doesn’t work. Advocates blame the state of Maryland. And on Monday, they got unanimous support of the Baltimore City Council.

BILL HENRY, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCIL: I have long been skeptical of the General Assembly’s willingness to properly fund the Baltimore City Public Schools. And I have thought that this would be necessary, that we would return to the courts as the [empty] that the minority has to go to when the majority will not do what it should.

ZEKE COHEN, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCIL: I know, because I used to be a teacher, that too many of our schools look like jails. Too many of our kids are going to schools in buildings where the windows are fogged over, where you can’t breathe, where you get asthma just from walking around, where kids are exposed to an inordinate amount of trauma.

JAISAL NOOR: The ACLU of Maryland and NAACP Legal Defense Fund are seeking to reopen a case originally filed in 1994 in Bradford. A judge sided with the plaintiffs and ruled the state needed to start spending more money in Baltimore, where the students are majority black and living in poverty. For Deshawna Bryant, she sees fully-funded schools as a key in not only transforming learning conditions, but the city itself.

DESHAWNA BRYANT, 18-YEAR-OLD SENIOR AT CITY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL: It has a terrible impact on Baltimore City Public School students, because everyone wants to judge us, how they don’t think we’re the best students, how we’re not up there in test scores and everything. But we can’t–we can’t have the best test scores, we can’t be the best students, if we’re not put in the proper environment. If we have to leave every single time it’s cold, if the building has to be let out, or if we have to leave every time it’s too hot to stay in the building, or if our teachers don’t have enough materials to teach us the proper things, it makes it hard to be these students that everybody wants us to live up to be.

JAISAL NOOR: 25 years later, advocates argue the state continues to fail to adequately fund city schools. Many say Maryland has never adequately funded schools for poor black children.

DANA VICKERS SHELLEY, EXEC. DIRECTOR, ACLU OF MARYLAND: Listen to Deshawna. Listen to every word she said. Children can’t wait for the state to get this right.

AJMEL QUERESHI, SENIOR COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: This must be corrected now. It’s a moral issue. It’s a legal issue. It’s a constitutional issue. We thank the city council for their action, and we look forward to a prompt resolution of this issue.

JAISAL NOOR: Baltimore receives the fourth highest per-pupil funding among large school districts in the country. And Hogan has parodied a line that Baltimore schools are not underfunded, but mismanaged.

BILL HENRY, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCIL: Politically speaking, that’s exactly what you say when you don’t want to actually provide the money you could fund, and you want to distract people from that fact.

AJMEL QUERESHI, SENIOR COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: It’s a constitutional standard. They have to provide enough money to provide a thorough and efficient education by contemporary standards. Just because they provided more money than they did the previous year doesn’t mean that they’re meeting the standards. So say if you have a family of five, and they had one loaf of bread for an entire month, just because they had two loaves of bread the next month doesn’t mean that it’s enough food to feed the family.

JAISAL NOOR: The ACLU of Maryland and NAACP Legal Defense Fund are holding a town hall on Tuesday May 7 to help gain support for their lawsuit.

With Taylor Hebden, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.