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 Education filed 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.
Over the 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.