Columbia Park Elementary in Landover, which opened in 1928, remains of the oldest public schools in Prince George's County. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Columbia Park Elementary in Landover, which opened in 1928, remains of the oldest public schools in Prince George's County. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Representatives for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU of Maryland say a current statewide public school improvement plan must address equity gaps between students of color and their white counterparts.

The conference call held Tuesday came a day before the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission, held a meeting in Annapolis.

The criticism stems from a funding formula work group comprising state, county and education officials proposing that the state would need $4 billion to boost education, but jurisdictions would have to pay more money to make it happen.

Detractors took specific umbrage with Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, jurisdictions with two of the highest numbers of Black and Latino students, possibly having to pay $330 million and nearly $361 million, respectively,

“We want to make sure that all [school] districts meet their needs and the process of Kirwan is not giving money for the sake of giving money,” said Kimberly Humphrey, public policy counsel for the ACLU. “[The Kirwan group] is painstakingly evaluating every line item to make sure we are giving enough for all of the unique needs in the districts, especially those of Black and Brown children.”

Meanwhile, the agencies are currently representing Baltimore parents in a lawsuit against the state to push for more funding in the city’s public schools.

The suit is based on the Bradford v. Maryland State Department of Education case originally filed in 1994. It claims through an education formula from 2002 led by Prince George’s school board chair Alvin Thornton to close wealth and racial gaps in education.

The suit claims when the 2008 recession hit, the adjustment in inflation based on the formula stopped and school systems such as Baltimore lost millions in resources and upgrades to school buildings.

A hearing on the case will be held Dec. 10 in Baltimore.

“For decades, the state of Maryland has ignored the aging infrastructure plaguing Baltimore schools,” McClellan said. “What was a $600 million problem has now become a $5 billion problem. The constitutional violation that is continuing to harm generations of children in Baltimore is impacting a district that is 90 percent Black and Latino.”

Officials also highlighted a study published last year by the Education Trust, a civil rights advocacy group in Northwest, that assessed that 45 percent of students of color in Maryland reside in Baltimore and Prince George’s and Caroline counties in fiscal year 2015. Those also are the top three school systems in Maryland that didn’t receive the highest amount of funding per pupil: Prince George’s ($4,529), Caroline ($3,621) and Baltimore ($3,611).

Gov. Larry Hogan has labed some of the Kirwan recommendations as the “Kirwan Tax Hike,” which hasn’t proposed how and where the money would come from to pay for increases in teacher salaries, additional mental health providers and counselors and other resources.

“This is exactly why Article 8 of the Maryland Constitution exist,” said Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Some things like education and the adequate education of our children are so important that we can’t leave them up to political posturing.”

The Kirwan Commission remains one of the most talked about topics in the state. It even was mentioned Monday, Oct. 28 during a meeting in Annapolis amongst a group of state, county and education officials who plan to finalize a proposal on public school construction.

According to a draft report, one goal of the group would be evaluating statewide school construction that would cost at least $400 million each year. One reason rests with the average age of public school buildings increasing from 24 years in 2005 to 30 years this year, which “indicates that facility conditions are worsening across the state,” the report stated.

The work group and Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission, collaborate on maintenance operations.

Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-District 23A) of Bowie, a member of the work group, said implementation of technology remains missing, especially to incorporate broadband width in rural and low-income schools.

“If we don’t ensure adequacy of technology in the classrooms … [then] we will perpetuate a geographic disparity, or at least an economic disparity, for the school systems,” she said.

The nine-member group plans to vote on a final report Nov. 19, which would be sent to the governor and state lawmakers to review before the General Assembly convenes Jan. 8.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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