ACLU of Maryland Applauds Education Funding Increase; Calls It Important Step Toward Educational Adequacy for Schoolchildren

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
May 6, 2002 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE–In what is being hailed as a visionary school plan, Maryland Governor Parris Glendening will today sign the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act into law — a move that will increase statewide education funding by $1.1 billion over five years. An American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland lawsuit brought on behalf of underserved urban schoolchildren has served as the catalyst for this unprecedented appropriation that will ultimately benefit all of Maryland’s schoolchildren.

The bill, which is tied to a state tax package, guarantees proceeds to fund the recommendations of the Thornton Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence. The commission was convened by state leaders in 2000 after a five-year Partnership Agreement expired between the ACLU’s clients and the Maryland State Board of Education. The commission was charged with addressing statewide adequacy issues in funding.

“Governor Glendening and legislative leaders, especially Sen. Barbara Hoffman, are to be commended for their vision of providing an adequate education for all children in Maryland,” said Bebe Verdery, Education Reform Director for the ACLU of Maryland. “By funding the recommendations of the Thornton Commission, Maryland becomes a national leader in recognizing vast jurisdictional disparities in educational funding and working towards remedying these inequalities.

“The ACLU of Maryland filed Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education in 1994, charging that the state was not providing an adequate education to Baltimore City schoolchildren as guaranteed in the Maryland State Constitution. Since reaching a consent decree with the state in 1996, more than $300 million in extra funding has flowed to Baltimore City schools. Extra funding and significant administrative reforms has led to increases in test scores across the city and created a more effective and responsive system of educating Baltimore schoolchildren.

Maryland is one of a growing number of states whose courts have ruled that states have an affirmative duty to provide whatever is necessary to ensure that children receive an adequate education.

In 1989, the ACLU of Connecticut and a number of civil rights groups filed Sheff v. O’Neill on behalf of children attending Hartford and suburban-Hartford schools. This became the first “test case” in the United States to challenge — on state constitutional grounds — this violation of the principle of equal educational opportunity.

The ACLU argued their case before the Connecticut Supreme Court and won a historic victory in 1996. The high court justices ruled that the condition of racial and ethnic segregation in the Hartford metropolitan area deprived schoolchildren of their fundamental rights under the state constitution to an equal educational opportunity. However, the state legislature has dragged its feet in adopting a coherent plan and this past week the ACLU submitted its own plan to a court calling for the construction of additional magnet schools and the expansion of a program allowing Hartford children to enroll in suburban schools.

The New Jersey Supreme Court set forth a comprehensive system of reforms and programs that it ordered the state to implement and fund. Texas courts likewise told the state it could not disburse education funds until their legislature and executive took steps to fund a constitutional education. Courts in numerous other states, among them New York, have trusted the legislature and the executive to act but made clear that the judiciary can take action if they don’t.

“Nothing is more important than educating our children, regardless of their race, class, ability or where they live in Maryland. It is our responsibility to give them the tools and skills they need to thrive in our society,” said Susan Goering, ACLU of Maryland Executive Director. “The Maryland General Assembly has begun to level the playing field so that every student in the state has access to a quality public education.”

Highlights of Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education litigation December 1994: ACLU files suit against the State of Maryland on behalf of at-risk children in Baltimore City, citing lowest test scores from elementary to high school levels, lowest graduation rates, and highest number of at-risk students in the state.

October 1996: Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan rules that students in Baltimore City public schools are not receiving a constitutionally adequate education — that is, an education that is adequate when measured by contemporary educational standards — and sets trial on the question of the appropriate remedy November 1996: On eve of trial, Baltimore City, the State of Maryland and ACLU entered into a Partnership Agreement under which City schools are established as separate entity governed by new school board and CEO. Parties also adopt a Master Plan for management reform and student achievement. The agreement includes five-year funding for Baltimore City schools, beginning with $30 million per year and continuing with $50 million per year for the following four years.

April 1997: State General Assembly enacts the Partnership Agreement legislation after long debate.

January 2000: Anticipating a re-examination of Baltimore City school funding at the end of the five-year Partnership Agreement, state leaders establish the Thornton Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence to address statewide adequacy issues in funding.

February 2000: Independent expert hired jointly by Baltimore City and the State of Maryland under the Partnership Agreement finds that there has been meaningful progress in improving education in Baltimore under the Partnership, but the schools still need significant additional funding for adequacy.

June 2000: Based on the results of the independent expert’s report, Baltimore City Public School System and ACLU file court papers asking Judge Kaplan to rule that State had not made its “best efforts” to provide additional funding to Baltimore City schools for staff and programs to reach adequacy.

June 2000: Judge Kaplan rules that the education being provided to Baltimore City school students is still constitutionally inadequate and that it will take an additional $2,000 to $2,600 per child per year ($200-260 million) from the state to meet its constitutional obligation of an adequate education for Baltimore City children.

Winter 2000-2001: State of Maryland appeals Judge Kaplan’s ruling, then withdraws its appeal, leaving the ruling as a final, binding order in the case, enforceable by court action.

March 2001: Baltimore City schools receive additional $12 million (for a total of $20 million) for “remedy plan” appropriation. Bradford plaintiffs await Thornton Commission findings. 2001: Thornton Commission issues its recommendations for a new funding formula and a statewide $1.1 billion increase in funding.

2002: ACLU works with legislative leaders, hires lobbyists, and, with the new Maryland Education Coalition, builds the statewide coalition to support the Coalition to Support the Thornton Commission. ACLU works with Baltimore City parents, students, and supporters to generate thousands of letters to legislators and the Governor. ACLU testifies that SB 856 is consistent with the court’s order for additional Baltimore City schools funding and must be enacted this year.

April 2002: Maryland General Assembly passes SB 856, which includes $1.3 billion for statewide education funding and $259 million for Baltimore City schools, increasing funding overall but especially for children at risk. Funding is to be phased in over six years.

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