Johns Hopkins University has released an in-depth report on the state of Baltimore City Public Schools in comparison to those around the state. The report supplies cumulative facts and insights that Baltimore families and students have had issues with for years. (kenny-eliason_unsplash)

By Tashi McQueen, AFRO Political Writer,
Report For America Corps Member,
tmcqueen@afro.com

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH)  has released a report comparing the state of Baltimore City Public School buildings to those in other counties across Maryland.

The JHSPH report, titled  “School conditions and educational equity in Baltimore City,” highlights the impact of partiality in funding and poor school environments on Baltimore City Public School students.

Joshua Sharfstein, a JHSPH professor of the practice in health policy and management and vice dean for public health practice and community engagement, authored the report.

According to the introduction in the report, less than two years ago a group of JHSPH experts in the fields of “public health, education, and medicine” received “data from the Baltimore City Public School system showing how many students missed school because of problems with school facilities.” Then, this spring, the researchers obtained data from a survey of the conditions of all K-12 schools in Maryland, known as the “statewide facilities assessment.”

The report was released in beta mode a day before it welcomed public view on Sept. 20 and highlighted the undeniable need for healthier school environments. 

The implications are endless. 

Not only does the state of school buildings affect student absenteeism rates, but dropout and low test scores too. There are also findings related to the physical well-being of students, faculty, and staff inside the classrooms of Charm City.

“What we found in schools is a threat to the health of children,” said Sharfstein. “For example, air conditioning and heating systems are lower quality than in other counties in Maryland.”

“Children are at risk of not graduating,” Sharfstein told the AFRO ahead of the report’s release. “Buildings are in disrepair, which contributes to asthma, physical injuries, mental distress, and disrupted learning.” 

Baltimore City Public Schools facilities had the worst conditions of all counties by several measures, including FCI scores and the level of “immediate code/life/health” threats. According to the report “as part of the statewide facilities assessment, the Interagency Commission on School Construction asked inspectors to assess the percentage of a building’s useful life that had been used. This is known as the ‘FCI score.’ A higher FCI score means there is less remaining useful life in a building.” The assessment also evaluated imminent risks posed by faulty school components.

Researchers included facility issues, heating and cooling failures, water and gas leaks, fires, and electrical malfunctions. The report included construction and COVID-19 disruptions as well.

Underfunding is a longstanding issue, the report concludes.

In the fiscal year 2020, Baltimore County had the most funding for capital projects out of several large counties while Baltimore City has the least.

Alicia Wilson, vice president for economic development and community partnerships for Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System, spoke on the report. 

“Schools are doing their part, but not being met by equal sentiment, which renders teachers and students powerless,” she said. “Inequitable funding impacts more counties than we think.” 

The report found that “Baltimore City Public Schools does not receive nearly enough capital funding, usually receiving about $40 million per year. By comparison, other similar counties in Maryland regularly receive $100 million or more each year.”

There is a range of consequences as a result.

“Dilapidated buildings have a large impact on the educational outcome, learning, teaching, instructing and building of our young people,” Wilson added.

According to the report, the school buildings that Baltimore City students are learning in are some of the oldest buildings in Maryland.

Baltimore City school buildings have the oldest components in the state. The replacement value is $141 million for Baltimore City. 

Missed school is found to affect Black students and low-performing schools the most.

Yearly checks for “maintenance-effectiveness” conducted by the state found that maintenance is harder to keep up to date when it comes to Baltimore City school buildings.

Structural issues are reported as one of the main concerns. 

According to the report, building inspectors noted that “persistent deficiencies” were due to a “lack of capital investments” to upgrade building components. 

“A report like this turns on a light for us to see the facts,” said Sharfstein. “Young people realize they are getting the short end of the stick– which undermines their self-esteem.” 

In 2013, City Schools began renovating and rebuilding school buildings as part of the 21st Century School Buildings program. Data released by City Schools shows that “to date, $1.1 billion has been leveraged to build or renovate and improve the academics in 32 schools in 28 buildings in neighborhoods across the city, from Cherry Hill to Park Heights to Clifton Park.”

Under the 21st Century School Buildings program, the city has completely renovated and reopened Forest Park Senior High School and Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary and Middle School. 

In an interview with the AFRO American Newspapers, Mayor Brandon Scott recognized the work that remains to be done to public school buildings but praised City Schools for the gains made with the initiative.

“Baltimore City has built and renovated more new schools than any urban jurisdiction in the country in the last few years. No, we’re nowhere near where we need to be we understand that, but we opened a record six new school buildings last year.” 

“That work has been ongoing and is going very well,” said Scott. “We’re now moving into the second phase of that. We’re going to be moving to high schools. Buildings like City College and Poly-Western and Frederick Douglass will finally be able to get renovated in the next few years.”

Still, the JHSPH report says this is not enough. 

The program is modernizing entire school buildings across the city– but it’s limited in the schools it’s addressing, leaving $4 million worth of repairs needed. The program is solving the right issues but is not the singular answer for issues caused by poor infrastructure.

The report says “because 80 percent of students in Baltimore City Public Schools are Black, the vast majority of children missing school are Black. We found that about five in every six hours– 84 percent– of lost school time due to infrastructure needs were experienced by Black children.”

The report didn’t just include an in-depth analysis of data and the opinion of world-class researchers. It also included the real experiences of students by way of the Nobody Asked Me Campaign

“There would be ceilings falling in. There would be classes where when it rained, you would have to put a bucket there,” said one student in the report

“Not having air conditioning, you cannot focus when it’s 80 degrees,” said another scholar. “I sweat a lot. So I would be sweating in class. It was terrible going to school.”

Wilson said the campaign “uplifts the voices of young people as part of this research. They are not asked their opinion on what they feel and experience. This gives them a chance to articulate as only they can.”

The researchers and experts at JHSPH believe that much more could be done for City Schools. 

According to the report, The 21st Century Buildings Program leaves out other schools in need of repair, which upon its completion means only about “one in four children” will be at schools renovated from the initiative.

“These children are just as capable and smart but are not able to compete due to their environment,” said Wilson. “There should be policy, practical changes, and action is taken to ensure change occurs.”

Outside of analyzing and compiling data coming out of the local school system, Wilson said JHSPH will “continue to be a partner for the schools of Baltimore” and “continue to be a resource for city students in improving education outcomes. We have a tuition-free program for students to attend JHSPH from Baltimore City.”

Wilson shares that JHSPH has contributed to the Baltimore Scholars program and has invested in schools across the city like Barclay Elementary/Middle School. 

To read the report, visit http://bit.ly/schoolconditionsbaltimore .

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