BALTIMORE, MD - In a comprehensive report released today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland's Education Reform Project urged City and State leaders, with community support, to move forward vigorously to modernize Baltimore's school buildings, noting that the current condition of buildings will hamper continued academic progress being made by city students. The study, "Buildings for Academic Excellence" urges that community members and leaders take up the challenge of financing the large-scale building and renovation effort that would be required and gives examples of other jurisdictions that successfully have modernized all of their schools.
"It's a matter of political will and priorities," said Bebe Verdery, Director of the ACLU of Maryland's Education Reform Project. "School districts cited in our report have shown that the full-scale renovation and rebuilding of city school facilities is possible, and can be accomplished in the short term. But everyone will have to row in the same direction to get it done."
Seventy percent of public schools in Baltimore City are in poor condition, needing major renovations or new buildings, which are estimated to cost $2.8 billion. Yet no plan exists to fund a full-scale modernization effort. The study highlights the importance of undertaking such an effort -- modern school buildings have a significant impact on student achievement, on the recruitment and retention of effective teachers, and on the health and investment in city neighborhoods.
"My students work harder and feel proud to attend a beautiful, modern school," said Principal Angela Faltz of Abbottston Elementary, a school that has made marked academic progress since its renovation.
The study notes:
- • Inadequate funding from the state, city, and federal governments is a primary barrier to the necessary improvements in city school buildings -- but not an insurmountable one.
- • The State's current distribution of school construction funds do not adequately address the deficient condition of buildings in the city.
- • Baltimore City makes an above-average effort in funding school renovations, but its low wealth limits its borrowing ability.
The study recommends that both the state and city make upgrading city school buildings a major priority, and describes innovative ways in which they can do so. Case studies from two cities and one state describe successful campaigns to rebuild school buildings on a large scale.
The recommendations in the study are:
- The State of Maryland and Baltimore City must collaborate with City Schools to devise a plan in 2010 to fund the $2.8 billion Comprehensive Educational Facilities Master Plan.
- The State should commit to bring all school buildings in the state up to at least minimal adequacy in the short term, and implement a rational allocation for capital funds that directs funding to the greatest needs. Distribution of state funds should factor the total facility needs and each district's ability to contribute.
- Baltimore City can increase its capital funding for school facility improvements and examine various options to expand revenue to support additional borrowing.
- Baltimore City, state, and federal leaders must advocate for a federal program to help low-wealth districts improve their school facilities.