Many believe that Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) are underfunded and the available resources are inadequate to meet the needs of our children, particularly the ones who live in concentrated poverty surrounded by high crime and blight.

The Maryland state legislature, which funds over 70 percent of the city school’s budget, has grappled with the idea of adequately funding all of the state’s public schools for decades.  In 2002 our representatives in Annapolis enacted The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002, commonly referred to as Thornton, which established a school aid formula meant to ensure equitable education for all.

The Thornton formula was based on recommendations made by the Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence (also known as the Thornton Commission after its chair, Dr. Alvin Thornton).  That new school aid formula was phased in from fiscal year 2003 through 2008. However, since FY 2008, the Thornton formula has been adjusted primarily by changes in enrollment and capped for inflation and other adjustments that were not lasting nor adequate to educate our children.

Kim Trueheart (LinkedIn Photo)

So, in June 2016, our state representatives established the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — better known as the Kirwan Commission, named for its chairman, former University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan.

The Kirwan Commission was given the following task:

“Review and assess current education financing formulas and accountability measures, and how each local school system is spending its funds.

Based on its review and assessment, the Kirwan Commission will make recommendations for legislative and policy initiatives to increase the availability of innovative educational opportunities, and make adequate and equitable the funding for state public education.  The Commission is currently wrapping up a series of public meetings held across the state to hear the people’s input. A final report is supposed to be submitted to legislature by Dec. 31.

BCPS  key data:

  • 6 percent African American; 7.9 percent White; 9.4 percent Hispanic/Latino
  • 7 percent low income
  • 6 percent English language learners
  • 8 percent students with disabilities
  • 70% of our school buildings are in poor condition
  • Students scored below the state average on the 2017 PARCC Exam:
    • 16 percent of students passed the English exam
    • Less than 12 percent passed the math exam

Our voices must be aligned to stand up and demand adjustments to the funding of our schools to offset the negative impact poverty has on learning.  A recent study by researchers at Rice University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin looks at the rise in U.S. children — including a spike in White kids — living in poor neighborhoods since the great recession.  They concluded the data clearly suggest that both family and neighborhood poverty are useful indicators for identifying children who may need extra supports in terms of school readiness skills, and that the characteristics of children who may be in need of these services has changed to include a larger portion of children.

Specifically, we need to demand:

  • Increased funding and staffing to meet needs of children who live in concentrated poverty
  • Increased funding to ensure equitable conditions across school facilities
  • Full-day pre-k for all 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income households
  • Pre-Apprenticeship certificate programs in high schools
  • Free after school and summer school programs
  • Enrichments in the form of art, music, sports, theatre, robotics and technology integration and SAT preparation
  • Community schools with wrap-around, trauma-informed, services in every school

These are reasonable demands.  Our children have unfortunately been left behind and equity in funding is absolutely necessary.

Across our city, schools vary from those rich with resources to meet the needs of students to those lacking in every way imaginable.  Those in power can make the changes needed but have lacked the political will to level the playing field and we must demand the inequities we see every day are eliminated.

We can no longer allow schools without the basic elements for a quality learning environment to exist. Working bathrooms, drinkable water, desks, chairs, paper and books for every student should NOT be a dream, but must be a reality in every school.  Computers are a must in our schools, yet many lack the needed electrical systems, internet connections or computer hardware.

Kim Truehart is a longtime Baltimore political activist, who advocates for children and people experiencing homelessness.