By John Schmid, Special to the AFRO

Sen. Cory V. McCray (D45) hosted a meeting, Nov. 5, of parents, educators and politicians for a discussion about the state of schools in Baltimore.  

The discussion entitled,”State of Our Schools: A Conversation About Our 45th District Schools,” included prepared remarks from Baltimore City Public Schools CEO, Sonja Santelises, Chairman of the Kirwan Commission and Chancellor Emeritus of the University System of Maryland, Dr. William English “Brit” Kirwan; Senior Education Advocate, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Frank Pantinella, and Sen. Cory McCray.

Interspersed during and between talks, was a Q & A segment between the attendees and the special guests.

Sonja Santelises, CEO Baltimore City Public Schools, converses with Sen. Cory McCray (D45) at the conclusion of “State of Our Schools.” (Photo by J. K. Schmid)

The purpose was to focus on the findings and recommendation of the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education report, a long-anticipated study of the condition of schools in Maryland and the quality of education that its students receive.

“We know the importance of how education affects all of those communities like Milton and Biddle,” McCray told the AFRO. “We know that the greatest advantage they can have is an education, if we provide it the right way. And that’s what [the Kirwan Commission] is doing.”

The mission of the meeting was to motivate McCray’s constituents to enthusiastically support the plan.

The commission determined that the State of Maryland will need $4 billion to fund facilities, faculty and services for all Maryland students adequately and equitably. These additions would be beneficial to the students, although they would double the current spending.

The American Community Survey, an ongoing research project of the U.S. Census Bureau named Maryland the wealthiest state in the country, and five Maryland counties (Howard, Montgomery, Calvert, Anne Arundel and Charles) as the wealthiest counties in the country.

“What kind of state do we want to live in?” Kirwan asked the audience. “Do we want to be a state where we just take the status quo and it’s every person for themselves, and if you got money right now, you can just buy a good education, or live in a ZIP code where there’s good education, and the heck with everybody else? Is that the kind of state you want to live in?”

One of the findings of the Kirwan report was the degree to which Maryland regressively funds schools. Funding currently flows fluidly to the wealthiest, highest performing schools, and a few drops are disbursed to at-risk schools. Top performing schools in the U.S. and in the world move funds and energy in the opposite direction: towards the students that have the least and need the most.

“Do we want to be a state that invests in the future, invests in young people?” Kirwan asked. “That’s why I say we are in a struggle for the soul of Maryland.”

“Struggle” was the final message of Kirwan’s remarks.

“This isn’t necessarily gonna happen,” Kirwan warned. “Because, there are folks out there that don’t want it to happen. There are people, wealthy people, because of a good education. And they’re donating money to a cause to block the recommendations. They’re giving money, so that our present day children, including most low income kids, won’t have the education, the quality education that they did, that got them to where they are today.”

The event was held at the REACH! Partnership School, a public charter high school in East Baltimore. At the start of the event, students milled about outside, almost as if they didn’t want to leave. A pair went back and forth about what was going on in robotics, a REACH! extracurricular. The school also offers advanced placement (AP) English and history courses.

The AFRO asked Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises how this school fits into the larger vision of Kirwan.

“This very building represents what all young people in Baltimore City deserve, it represents what school facilities should be, it represents the baseline, it represents the target,” Santelises said. “And I think every time we go into, for me, 21st Century school spaces, it’s a reminder of what every young person deserves.”

REACH! hosts 541 students, and runs in partnership with Civic Works, an AmeriCorps affiliate.

“We act as if kids don’t get that the space they’re in says what we think about them. We know that they are aware, and the fact that they are responding this way, the staff hasn’t changed, the principal hasn’t changed. Yes, they brought in some additional academic programs. But the big piece for them is a facility that says ‘you are worth the investment to us.’ So, we act as if it doesn’t matter, but it does matter.”