Demonstrating the importance to plaintiffs of having a court retain jurisdiction of an adequacy case to ensure full compliance with a court order, the plaintiffs in Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Educationfiled a petition last month that asks the Circuit Court for Baltimore Country to revive the 25 year old law suit, order the state to provide $290 in immediate funding increases and develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that all Baltimore City students receive a “thorough and efficient education”.
In 1994, the American Civil Liberties Union and
Baltimore City initiated suits against the state, alleging that the city’s
students were not receiving a “thorough and efficient” education as required by
the state constitution. In a 1996 summary judgment decision, the trial court
agreed. On the eve of trial, the parties
entered into a settlement that provided a modest increase in state funding for
the Baltimore City Public Schools in return for changes in school governance.
Plaintiffs returned to court in 2000, and the
circuit court declared that the state “is still not providing the children of
Baltimore City…a constitutionally adequate education,” has failed to comply
with the 1996 Consent Decree, and needs to provide additional funding. The state did not comply with that order; but
it did establish a commission (the “Thorton Commission”) to study and make
recommendations on school funding.
In April 2002, Maryland enacted a new finance
system, based on the Thornton Commission’s recommendations including sending
more state funding to high-need districts. After this major reform was passed,
the Bradford plaintiffs asked the circuit court to retain jurisdiction, pending
implementation. The court agreed.
years, Baltimore City schools had received over $2 billion in increased state
funding from the Bradford consent
decree and subsequent “Thornton” education funding formula. However, since the
recession in 2008, Maryland stopped adjusting the Thornton formula for
inflation, leading to millions in lost funds for districts like Baltimore City.
In 2016, the legislature created a Commission on
Innovation and Excellence, known as the “Kirwan Commission” which
was expected to address these funding issues by December 31, 2017. That
deadline has been postponed repeatedly, most recently from December 31, 2018 to
December 31, 2019.
Plaintiffs’ petition claims that each time the state delays, Baltimore City children who have the highest “at risk” index in the state, suffer the consequences. The petition also emphasizes the fact that at least 85 percent of the city’s school buildings have been rated “very poor” or “poor” and that the system reached a breaking point last winter when the entire system was closed down for a week because its ancient heating systems failed. The school system estimates that it would cost $3 billion to bring their buildings up to minimally acceptable standards through repairs and building replacements and $5 billion to complete a full portfolio replacement to meet modern educational standards.