Public schools across Baltimore City had to close in early January because their heating systems couldn’t deal with the winter weather. Despite Maryland’s chronic underfunding of Baltimore schools according to the state’s own formula, the governor suddenly found $2.5 million to address the problem and hundreds of workers labored over the weekend to fix the problems in about 60 schools. Even then, some schools needed more work and remained closed!
If the winter cold wasn’t bad enough, every year in June and September Baltimore schools face the opposite problem—it’s hot and there’s not enough air conditioning. You would think that in the richest country in the history of the world, the government would provide safe and comfortable conditions for our children and youth to study.
That’s not all. In 2007, the water in Baltimore schools’ fountains was declared hazardous because of lead in the water. Officials said that the city couldn’t afford the $3.3 million to fix the fountains, so they’ve been bringing in bottled water to the schools for over ten years at a cost of about half a million a year. So they have already spent way more bringing in water than it would have cost to fix the problem.
And if you think they are not spending enough on basic health and safety, do you really think they are spending enough on teachers, computers, books, and supplies? The city is heavily dependent on state funding for its schools. The state funds over 70 percent of the city school budget, the highest percentage of all school districts in Maryland. And that funding is far from enough. By the state’s own standards, Maryland underfunds Baltimore City’s education by $290 million per year and nearly $3 billion over the past decade.
Baltimore City can’t fund its schools by itself because it is poor, especially compared to the suburban districts around it. Two-thirds of the city’s population is African American. Our society’s racism is a big factor contributing to Baltimore’s poverty. Median household income for African Americans in Baltimore is about half that of whites, $33,801 compared to $62,751, while for the state of Maryland as a whole the figure is $73,538. Eighty-three percent of public school students in Baltimore are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Eighty percent are African American; ten percent are Latino; nine percent are non-Latino white.
With Democratic Party control of the state legislature, the city council, and the mayor’s office, students of color are not getting the schooling they deserve. The politicians find money for what they want, like giving nearly $700 million of city taxpayers’ money to Under Armour to develop a wealthy district in an old industrial area – a playground for the rich that will include kayak landings for their leisure!
And the politicians found the money to heat the schools in January, only when it had become a public relations disaster. But for Baltimore students, teachers, and school staff, every day is a disaster of one sort or another because of inadequate funding.
We see this all across the U.S. – the children of working people and people of color are not a priority in this society. The wealthy capitalists who control the politicians have other concerns – keeping their wallets fat.