Since 2011, funding for vital public school infrastructure projects in the 45th District has ranked last or second-to-last each year compared to the rest of Baltimore City. While other electoral districts in the city have received up to three times the financial support for newly built or renovated schools, our district has lagged dramatically behind. These statistics are especially distressing given the existing disadvantages that our students already face.

The facts are simple. The 45th District is among the most economically and socially disadvantaged in the state. Our neighborhoods confront high levels of crime, poverty, and unemployment. For example, 44.4% of the family households in Oldtown/Middle East live below the poverty line. Because of this, students enrolled in our schools stand to benefit tremendously from equitable investments in their educational facilities.

Cory McCray (Facebook Photo)

As a recent Baltimore Sun article explains, the disparities that exist when it comes to funding for infrastructure also have racial implications. According to the Sun, “predominantly white neighborhoods were slated for almost twice as much spending over the past five years as mostly minority parts of the city.” This is an issue that elected leaders from our legislative district cannot afford to sidestep or ignore, especially when it comes to education funding.

One of the great philosophies that underlie the concept of public education is that it acts as an equalizer that allows a student in East Baltimore, for example, to have the same opportunities as her peers in a more affluent community someplace else. If this philosophy is to become reality, we have to advocate for an approach that affords Student A and Student B comparable learning facilities regardless of geographic location. Unfortunately the 21st Century Schools Initiative, which is the strategic plan for school construction in Baltimore City, places a disproportionate amount of capital funding outside of the 45th District.

I saw the results of disinvestment firsthand during a recent tour of Collington Elementary-Middle School. Though the teachers and administrators at Collington work hard each day to improve the lives of their students they are left with no choice but to do so in sub-par facilities. There is no doubt that students who attend school there would benefit from greater investment in their school’s infrastructure. Meanwhile, Furley Elementary was shut down altogether after years of neglect and rising maintenance costs that would have likely been manageable had they been addressed right away.

This is one of the many reasons that I sponsored House Bill 76 (2017), a piece of legislation that will develop and implement a scoring system for evaluating public school infrastructure projects. This will make the process more transparent for residents throughout the city who may inquire as to why one school was prioritized over another. It will also provide greater opportunity for community engagement throughout the capital expenditure process.

When confronted with systemic inequities such as the ones we have seen with school funding, it is imperative that our legislators advocate for the needs of the families they serve. Asked about his response to this inequitable funding in a Nov. 27 interview with the AFRO, our district’s senator, Nathaniel McFadden, cast fault on a consultancy firm commissioned by the school system. Blame shifting like this obscures the true responsibility of a state legislator: to provide oversight in matters exactly like these.

As citizens, we entrust our leaders with a seat at the table under the expectation that they will represent the interests of the communities they serve. While school system leaders provide critical technical expertise, it is the job of an elected official to both ask tough questions and explain the needs of the communities that he is charged with representing. If he declines to do so, we must ask ourselves if that legislator’s interests are truly aligned with the needs of his constituency. Elected leaders sitting idly by as our schools’ infrastructural necessities are overlooked doesn’t just hurt the caliber of our public schools, it erodes the fabric of our neighborhoods and strips away confidence in our institutions.

Consequently, the decisions we make in the voting booth have direct implications for the progress we see everywhere around us, especially within the schoolhouse gates. As the primary election nears, voters must ask themselves if the person they have hired to be their voice in Annapolis has shown that he is actually willing to speak up on their behalf when it counts. I’m running for State Senate in the 45th District because if I’m elected I will always stand up for the families that live and work in our district.

Cory McCray is currently a Delegate representing the 45th District in Northeast Baltimore. He is running to unseat Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, who also represents the 45th. Both McCray and McFadden are Democrats.