Three years after ACLU released its report, Buildings for Academic Excellence: A Vision and Option to Address Deficient School Facilities in Baltimore City, legislation encompassing its policy proposals is adopted by Maryland legislature
ANNAPOLIS, MD - Late last night, the Baltimore City School Construction and Revitalization Act of 2013 - House Bill 860 - was approved overwhelmingly on a bipartisan vote by the House of Delegates, 102-30, following Senate approval of 40-7, and awaits the signature of Governor Martin O'Malley. Under the bill, the State, Baltimore City, and Baltimore City Public Schools will contribute a total of $60 million in funds annually to leverage $1 billion in revenue bonds to implement Phase I of the city school system's 10-year facilities plan.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland's Education Reform Project has worked to address the poor quality city school buildings since the "Kopp" Task Force released its school facilities' report in 2003, highlighting the inequity in facility conditions across the state. While the ACLU's advocacy from 2004-2010 led to some success in increased funds for school infrastructure, it was not enough to keep pace with the rising costs and rate of deterioration of Baltimore's school buildings. It was clear to the ACLU that Baltimore students would never get new and renovated schools without bolder and more innovative approaches.
The ACLU's report, Buildings for Academic Excellence, released in July of 2010, was the first to outline the scope of the problem, the insufficient funding streams, and the successful strategies used by other jurisdictions throughout the country that utilized leveraging and a quicker construction timeline to achieve quality schools for all their students. The Buildings report was followed by a second, commissioned to outline a specific financing plan.
"The passage of this bill represents a huge step toward achieving the goals that we outlined three years ago," said Bebe Verdery, Director of the ACLU-MD's Education Reform Project. "We believed that if solutions based on successful school construction models in other states and districts were presented and developed, we could build a campaign of support among those most affected - students, teachers, parents, school leaders- and gain the support of elected officials. Today, we thank those officials for championing this new law."
Over the past two years, the ACLU worked closely with the Baltimore Education Coalition, various grassroots organizations, and business and philanthropic leaders, to form the campaign, Transform Baltimore: Build Schools, Build Neighborhoods. The campaign was launched in August 2011 and quickly moved the vision of new and renovated schools to the forefront of public awareness and debate. ACLU also worked closely with Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, and school system leaders as they developed a comprehensive 10 Year Plan for school renewals and financing. Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore City delegation recognized the significant impact that a large-scale public school construction program would have not only on student outcomes but also on job creation and long-term economic stability for neighborhoods, making the bill their top legislative priority for 2013.
The new law will establish a structure and funding for Phase I of City Schools' 10-year facilities plan. This includes approximately 50 fully renovated or newly built schools over the next seven years (including the initial year of planning). "We look forward to the day when all City schoolchildren arrive each morning in schools with sufficient heat, air-conditioning, water fountains from which they can drink, 21st century technology, and playing fields where they can get exercise," said ACLU-MD's Frank Patinella. Approximately 50-55 schools will be built new or fully renovated in neighborhoods across the city. Some 26 schools will close and their student populations will be transferred to the new/renovated schools.
HB 860 requires the State, City, and city school system each to commit $20 million in funds annually towards debt service for the historic $1 billion investment in city school construction. The State's $20 million will come from lottery proceeds; the City's share from future gaming revenue, the beverage container tax, and additional aid generated from retiree health funding; and the school system's share will be generated partially from the savings associated with closing buildings, and operational savings as the more efficient, modern buildings come online. The Maryland Stadium Authority will serve as the financing agent and oversee the implementation of Phase I of the 10-Year Plan, as approved by the Baltimore City School Board of Commissioners. The Stadium Authority will be responsible for building the approximately 15 new schools and City Schools will oversee the 35+ full-renovation projects. To ensure accountability, transparency, and quality, the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) will maintain its role in approving projects in the plan. A Memorandum of Understanding among the City School System, the City, the IAC, and the Stadium Authority must be completed by October 1, 2013.
School system consultants estimated that Phase I will generate 8,000 jobs in Baltimore and throughout the state of Maryland. During the hearings and floor debate in the House and Senate, state leaders touted the city school construction plan as a win for the whole state. "Kudos to Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Dr. Alonso for prioritizing this critical issue for the city," said Neil Bergsman, Director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute. "Revitalizing the city must be comprehensive - significant investment in schools and neighborhoods is needed to attract and keep families in the city."
The ACLU will continue working with the Transform Baltimore campaign and the Baltimore Education Coalition to ensure that Phase I is implemented to achieve the best outcome for city students. "The ACLU is committed to work with officials to explore options to fund the second phase of the Baltimore City Public Schools' $2.4 billion 10-year plan," said ACLU's Patinella. "All Baltimore schoolchildren and their teachers must be in modernized buildings by the end of this process."