``The Fact Is, Urban Schools are in Trouble'

August 08, 1993

On Tuesday, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities on education funding. Here is the prepared text of his remarks, supplied by the mayor's office:

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and the members of the SenateSubcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities for the opportunity to talk briefly about equity in education. Mr. Chairman, I want to start by saying that defending and reinforcing urban public education has once again become a matter of national security. I say once again because in the early days of the Cold War President Eisenhower cited national

security as justification for the National Defense Education Act. I'm a Democrat, Mr. Chairman, but "I like Ike," too, because he had the wisdom to define national defense in light of our domestic needs.

The Cold War is over. We are now in a period of intense global competition where low skill manufacturing jobs are giving way to high technology jobs. In Baltimore, Bethlehem Steel used to be our largest private employer. Now Johns Hopkins is. These changes mean that we must have an educated work force -- a work force that can meet the needs of a modern economy; build the tax base of our cities; design, use and produce high technology products; compete with low wage countries by being more creative and productive; and substitute prosperity for poverty.

But those goals cannot be accomplished in the educational universe that most urban public schools inhabit -- a universe of shrinking resources, neglect and inequality. Mr. Chairman, the hallmarks of national security in 1993 are ideas, academic achievement, productivity, and tapping the potential of all young minds. That means as a nation, we need the children of cities. We need them smart. We need them to believe in themselves. And we need them to believe they have a stake in America's future. Unfortunately, that is not the direction we are headed. And because it is not, our national security is in jeopardy.

The fact is, urban schools are in trouble, and the reasons are not hard to find. In Baltimore the majority of the children attending our public schools come from financially poor families. Many grow up surrounded by drugs and violence. And the ill effects of those social problems are made worse because our schools are dramatically and disproportionately under-funded. Baltimore City spends approximately $60,000 less per classroom per year than the wealthiest jurisdiction in Maryland.

And that is only one of many problems tied to the financial wherewithal of urban schools. Here are some others: For teachers with 10 or more years experience, Baltimore cannot compete in salaries with neighboring school districts. We have some of the best teachers and lose them at the peak of their experience and professional skills because we're paying them $5,000 to $8,000 less than they can earn in suburban jurisdictions.

And there are other problems. Thirty-six percent of Baltimore City's operating budget goes to public safety, compared to a statewide average of 16.9 percent. On the other hand, we can only afford to spend 23 percent of our local resources on education, while the statewide average is 42.5 percent. Accordingly, we're spending a lot more money for police and a lot less on education than our neighboring counties.

Baltimore has among the highest student-teacher ratios, and among the largest average class size in the state. We also have the largest percentage of special education students, the largest percentage of Chapter 1 students and the largest percentage -- two-thirds of our students -- receiving free or reduced meals in the state. On the other hand, we now have the fewest professional support staff -- principals, guidance counselors and school psychologists -- per 1,000 pupils in the state.

Insufficient funds and the extra responsibility we carry as educator to so many of the state's poor children has left many schools in Baltimore in need of maintenance and short of basic supplies including books, maps and computers. As of 1990, the number of students per computer in Baltimore was 77 to one, compared to a statewide average of 21 to one.

Mr. Chairman, let me emphasize that money alone is not the solution to the problems of urban public education. Nevertheless, lack of money has its consequences. And those consequences are most graphically seen in poor academic performance. Last year, the majority of students in Baltimore City met only 2 standards out of 13 in the new Maryland performance [report]. In 1991-1992, students in the Baltimore City public school system scored substantially below the state average in the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills. Also, the dropout rate at city schools was 16 percent, the highest in the state and almost 6 times higher than the state standard for satisfactory.

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