By Brandon M. Scott
From kindergarten through 12th grade, I attended Baltimore City Public Schools. It’s a fact that I’m proud of, and I know I received an excellent education. Unfortunately, I didn’t sit in a classroom with air conditioning until I was in 9th grade. Many of those years, I attended schools without reliable heat. I know how it feels in Baltimore’s brutal winters to sit in a classroom needing to wear your coat. It makes it hard to focus on your studies. It also makes you feel less-than, like your city and your state doesn’t fully value your education.
Twenty years ago, my classrooms had no heat. Today, according to a new report on educational equity and school infrastructure, our students have missed almost 1.5 million instructional hours a year, mostly due to lack of heating and air conditioning. Students missing 221,000 days of school means 221,000 times our state and local government has failed to prioritize their basic right to a quality education.
In 2020, schools in Baltimore should not be shutting down because they are too hot, too cold, have no running water, or no electricity. These are the same issues I dealt with as a student in Baltimore more than 20 years ago. Enough is enough.
Baltimore City schools have made admirable progress outfitting schools with functioning HVAC systems — but they need our support. The Kirwan Commission has developed a new funding formula to get our schools on an equitable path forward — but we need to fight for full funding and implementation. I strongly stand in support of HB1/SB1: The Build to Learn Act, which will address some of our deeper infrastructural needs — but some of my state counterparts still seem close-minded to the urgency with which we must act.
Some portray the path to educational equity as a false choice between air conditioning or Kirwan, or too expensive to invest in “just because we all favor the kids.” I reject that. Our schools need HVAC systems. They need repairs and new roofs. Our teachers need more pay. We can’t afford not to make serious investments in our young people and their schools now.
An “either-or” approach to investing in education won’t do. Our schools deserve an all-of-the-above approach. I will continue to fight so our students can learn in environments worthy of their promise.
These are issues the city and state can solve now. Our city has the means to transfer a portion of an unanticipated budget surplus from the last fiscal year to Baltimore City Schools right now to fulfill the outstanding HVAC need. At the state level, we will secure $2.2 billion for infrastructure by passing HB1/SB1. We can fully adopt the Kirwan recommendations, which is projected to start paying for itself in 2034. And we can do everything within our power to ensure each of our students goes to school each day in an environment fully conducive to their learning.
At the local level, we need to fundamentally reorient our priorities as a city. This will require sacrifice and commitment. It certainly won’t happen through the budgetary equivalent of change in the sofa cushions.
I am calling on all Maryland lawmakers to support this fight for our children. Anyone who understands the problem at hand, they will agree that our students shouldn’t have to suffer from the greedy sacrifices the government makes on their behalf.
This summer, I called on the city’s finance department to prepare a plan to meet the local funding recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. The City Council’s first hearing on this matter was in December and we will host another one in the coming months to ensure we are prepared.
Some have called this fight political when it is completely the opposite. As leaders, it’s our obligation to make investments where we can solve urgent problems. We can and should solve this problem with urgency.
Let’s show Baltimore’s young people, parents, teachers and school staff that we care, and are willing to make the investments that matter. I am ready to take an all-of-the-above-approach to this crisis and hope my colleagues are ready to do the same.
Brandon M. Scott was unanimously elected President of the Baltimore City Council by his colleagues in May 2019. Previously, President Scott served on the City Council representing Baltimore City’s 2nd District. President Scott was first elected at the age of 27 in 2011, at which time he became the youngest person ever elected to the Baltimore City Council. He is a community leader, public servant and lifelong resident of Baltimore City. He is a proud graduate of MERVO High School and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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