Frank Patinella, Senior Education Advocate at the ACLU of Maryland (Courtesy Photo/aclu-md.org)
Our children deserve to dream big, but they need resources to back them up
By Frank Patinella, Senior Education Advocate at the ACLU of Maryland
The Governor and Maryland legislators cannot continue to undervalue the education of Black and Latinx students in Baltimore. Their lives and education matter. They should have adequate devices, internet service, and enough support for learning during the pandemic. And when children go back to school, they should be able to take tests without winter coats on and without missing valuable school time because there is no air conditioning. It is their right, and it is the right thing to do.
This has gone on for decades – far too long. Thousands of families in Baltimore have made big sacrifices to visit Annapolis to advocate for more funding in their schools and for the state to stop cutting their children’s education. No person should have to beg for anything that is guaranteed to them by the state constitution.
Full staffing in schools, manageable class sizes, art and music courses, social workers and counselors, academic support for learners who are struggling, afterschool and summer school programs, advanced courses that are accessible throughout the district, and foreign language classes are all basic necessities for a child’s education. Not only are these programs and professionals necessary for the cultivation of children’s self-esteem and learning, but they are imperative to prepare the next generation of leaders.
The State of Maryland was supposed to start revising its education funding formula in 2012. In fact, the legislature set that date in law. Year after year, as legislators kept delaying the revision process, families and children in Baltimore City watched staff and programs at their schools wither away. Now in 2021, the pandemic has exacerbated the impact of chronic underfunding in Maryland schools, especially in Baltimore City and other districts with low wealth. A month after school started this year, CEO Dr. Santelises announced the layoff of 450 school-level employees to mitigate budget gaps.
We’re calling on state legislative leaders and the governor to act swiftly and boldly to address our children’s urgent needs. One of the first things that must be done is overriding the governor’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill (“Kirwan”). Securing the $3.4 billion Blueprint bill will help fill large budget gaps in education and bring new resources and programs to schools over the next 10 years.
The state also has an obligation to do a better job at prioritizing the students and districts that need the most support. Often these are students from families of low income, are English language learners, or have special education needs. Legislators should also prioritize districts that are the furthest away from funding “adequacy.” In a report to the Kirwan Commission, the state showed that Baltimore City schools are underfunded by at least $342 million for school year 2016-2017. That shortfall is likely to be a lot higher today. Prince George’s County, Caroline County, and a few other rural districts also have large funding gaps and have experienced compounded effects of decades of under-funding.
Part of nurturing a child’s development is providing tutoring and other support services, especially for students who are experiencing the greatest learning loss and trauma. COVID-19 has further exposed the digital divide that exists between school districts that have had adequate funding, and those that have struggled for decades without. In the 21st century, and particularly during remote learning, adequate electronic devices and adequate internet service should be treated as the necessary learning tools that they are, not as luxury items.
However, the digital divide is not the only issue that needs to be addressed. Because of COVID-19, the enrollment count could be a serious issue that threatens necessary school funding. Most school districts are experiencing lower enrollment due to the pandemic and without additional funding in the state education budget from the governor, schools will lose funding next school year.
By now, the federal CARES money has mostly been spent and we know that the state is waiting to see what the federal government will provide in terms of a second COVID-19 stimulus bill. But even if the federal government doesn’t come through, the state has options. The Department of Legislative Services reported that the revenue outlook is much better than what was previously projected and that the state has a surplus in the Rainy Day Fund — over $1 billion, and now is the time to use it.
Under Maryland’s Constitution, it is the State’s responsibility to ensure that all students receive an education that meets State adequacy standards. Tens of thousands of Black children’s education have been underfunded for generations. Legislators have expressed their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement — this is an opportunity to show it.
The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO. Send letters to The Afro-American • 1531 S. Edgewood St. Baltimore, MD 21227 or fax to 1-877-570-9297 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org