City pupils lack funds, judge rules

Estimate calls for $2,000 to $2,600 more per student

`Not part of discussion'

The ruling would cost the state up to $267 million

July 01, 2000|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that the state has not fulfilled its constitutional obligation to provide enough money for the education of city schoolchildren.

Though Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan did not order the state to pay a specific amount, he concluded the city's public schools need an additional $2,000 to $2,600 per pupil each year. He also wrote that "the Court trusts that the State will act to bring itself into compliance."

Given this year's enrollment of approximately 103,000 pupils, the increase could cost as much as $267.8 million. The governor's office immediately dismissed the idea of providing that level of funding, leaving a question as to how much money the city might receive and when.

Mike Morrill, spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the amount cited by Kaplan is "so far out of line with what is achievable, what is realistic, that it will not be part of the discussion."

City school allies said they were pleased with Kaplan's order and hope to use it to negotiate more aid for next year.

"It makes clear where we are and gives the state the opportunity to live up to its consitutional mandate and its contractual obligation when it agreed to this whole procedure in 1996," said Wilbur D. Preston Jr., attorney for the school system.

Last month the school district filed an 80-page petition to reopen the 1996 settlement of a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed over funding for Baltimore's schools. That settlement produced a landmark partnership in which the city gave up some control of its schools in exchange for $254 million in new state aid over five years.

Even with the additional funding, school officials felt the governor had reneged on the promise to provide adequate funding for the city's schoolchildren, who are among the poorest in the state. Kaplan agreed, saying the state had violated the 1996 consent decree.

The governor's budget for fiscal 2001 gives the city school system more than $564 million in operating funds and $47 million in construction money.

A consultant's report in January suggested that city school leaders need another $260 million a year to bring the school system up to par.

This year the city put forth a plan for an additional $49.7 million to send failing students to summer school, expand preschool programs and boost teacher salaries. Last week, the state made a final offer of $33 million. Kaplan did not accept that figure, writing that much of the state's offer was not extra money but funds the schools would already receive.

The state said it would fund the full $49.7 million next year, but city lawyers indicated that they wanted $100 million more for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2001.

The latest round of court action began this spring after city officials realized the governor had not put an additional $4 million for Baltimore's schools in his budget. In April, the school board threatened court action and hired Preston, a partner with Whiteford, Taylor and Preston, to represent it.

Since the decree went into effect, state spending per city school student has increased 66 percent, the letter said. This year the state will provide $6,488 per student in the city school system.

"I think the first and most important reaction is that nothing in the judge's opinion recognizes the incredible support that the state taxpayers have provided to the city schools of Baltimore in the last five years," said Morrill, the governor's spokesman. "This governor and this legislature have increased funding per student incredibly in the last five years. They have exceeded what the consent decree required and exceeded it significantly."

Morrill also said that while the state continues to increase funding for the schools, city officials have not addressed the effects of declining enrollment. Other jurisdictions have made "very painful cutbacks," Morrill said.

"The city has yet to do that," he said.

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