No public funds for Baraka

Kenya school: Worthwhile experiment should continue with private funding, if at all.

June 16, 2000

THIS IS how the Abell Foundation works: Come up with an innovative idea, create it and fund it -- then get someone else to pay the tab and move on to the next big thing.

There's nothing wrong with that approach. And unquestionably, there are sturdy programs all over the Baltimore area that were first erected by Abell.

But the Baraka School is different. For this program to continue to educate male middle-schoolers in Kenya, Abell wants the city schools to step in and supplant its support. Foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr. says the only way the school will keep its doors open is if the city schools significantly boost their contribution.

That would be a mistake.

City school officials have been clamoring for months to get more money for books, for teachers and for badly needed remedial programs. Given the laundry list of unfunded -- or under-funded -- basics in city schools, sending more money to a bold, private experiment makes no sense.

That's not to say Baraka is a worthless endeavor or that it shouldn't continue in some form.

It was a great idea to take directionless middle-school boys out of their homes and neighborhoods (which in some cases were the problem) and expose them to another world.

Even when misbehavior cropped up or management problems harmed the Baraka School's reputation, it was hard to argue with the project's bold and innovative approach -- something that's sorely lacking in most programs that deal with this city's at-risk kids.

But Baraka was a private school from the beginning -- privately conceived and privately funded. Making it public isn't reasonable for a school system in as bad a shape as Baltimore's. If Abell and the Baraka parents really believe the program should continue, they ought to find the funds to do it somewhere other than in the public schools' coffers.

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