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April 5, 2013

In a bipartisan vote on April 2, 2013, the Maryland House of Delegates approved the Baltimore City School Construction and Revitalization Act of 2013 by 102-30, following Senate approval 40-7. Under this new law, the State, Baltimore City, and Baltimore City Public Schools will contribute $60 million annually to leverage $1 billion in bonds for Phase I of the school system's 10-year facilities plan. Governor O'Malley has said he will sign the bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland's Education Reform Project has worked to address the poor quality of city school buildings since a task force report on school facilities, in 2003, highlighted the inequity in facility conditions across the state. Little progress over several years led ACLU to bolder approaches and its 2010 report Buildings for Academic Excellence, which details the scope of the problem, the insufficient funding streams, and the successful strategies used elsewhere. The Buildings report was followed by a second report, outlining a specific financing plan.

"The passage of this bill represents a huge step toward achieving the goals that we outlined three years ago," said Bebe Verdery, Director of the ACLU-MD's Education Reform Project.  "We believed that if solutions based on successful school construction models in other states and districts were presented and developed, we could build a campaign of support among those most affected -- students, teachers, parents, school leaders -- and gain the support of elected officials. Today, we thank those officials for championing this new law."

Over the past two years, the ACLU worked closely with the Baltimore Education Coalition, various grassroots organizations, and business and philanthropic leaders, to form the campaign, Transform Baltimore: Build Schools, Build Neighborhoods. The campaign quickly moved the vision of new and renovated schools to the forefront of public awareness and debate. ACLU also worked closely with Dr. Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, and school system leaders as they developed a comprehensive 10-Year Plan for school renewals and financing.

Baltimore City Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore City delegation recognized the significant impact that a large-scale public school construction program would have not only on student outcomes but also on job creation and long-term economic stability for neighborhoods, making the bill their top legislative priority for 2013. 

Phase I will generate an estimated 8,000 jobs. During the hearings and floor debate in the House and Senate, state leaders touted the city school construction plan as a win-win for the whole state. "Kudos to Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Dr. Alonso for prioritizing this critical issue for the city," said Neil Bergsman, Director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute. "Revitalizing the city must be comprehensive -- significant investment in schools and neighborhoods is needed to attract and keep families in the city."

The new law establishes a structure for Phase I of City Schools' 10-year facilities plan, including about 50 fully renovated or newly built schools over the next seven years.  "We look forward to the day when all City schoolchildren arrive each morning in schools with sufficient heat, air-conditioning, water fountains ... , 21st century technology, and playing fields where they can get exercise," said ACLU-MD's Frank Patinella. Some 26 schools will close and their student populations will be transferred to the new/renovated schools.  

Moreover, this law puts the financing plan into action by requiring the State, City, and city school system each to commit $20 million annually towards debt service for the historic $1 billion investment in city school construction. The Maryland Stadium Authority will serve as the financing agent and oversee the building of approximately 15 new schools. The City Public Schools will oversee the 35+ full-renovation projects. To ensure accountability, transparency, and quality, the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) will maintain its role in approving projects in the plan.  

The ACLU reports that it will continue working with the Transform Baltimore campaign and the Baltimore Education Coalition to ensure that Phase I is implemented to achieve the best outcome for city students. "The ACLU is committed to work with officials to explore options to fund the second phase of the Baltimore City Public Schools' $2.4 billion 10-year plan," said ACLU's Patinella.  "All Baltimore schoolchildren and their teachers must be in modern buildings by the end of this process."

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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