City judge orders school-cost detail: 'Corrective actions' required by state at issue
By Sara Neufeld
A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ordered city and state school officials yesterday to detail the cost of "corrective actions" that the state is mandating from the city school system.
A lawyer for the system estimated in court that it would cost $30 million to $40 million to comply with the state requirements, which include implementing a new curriculum in core subjects in middle and high schools.
Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, who presides over a long-running case in which the state is accused of unlawfully underfunding city schools, said he wants precise figures within 60 days.
Using its authority under the No Child Left Behind Act, the state school board ordered in March outside takeovers of 11 city schools with chronically low test scores, as well as several reforms aimed at improving the city schools overall. The General Assembly voted to impose a one-year moratorium on the takeovers in early April, but the system must comply now with the other reforms.
Because the takeovers could still happen in a year, Kaplan said he wants to know how much they would cost. The judge expressed his disapproval of the strategy of ordering outside entities to take over failing schools, saying that "state takeovers have not been successful anywhere."
The school funding case, Bradford v. Maryland, was filed more than a decade ago by parents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and joined by the city and the city school board.
The parties were in court yesterday to hear a motion filed by students in the Baltimore Algebra Project, a tutoring and advocacy group. The students asked Kaplan to declare their right to temporarily take over the powers of the state school board so they can ask the governor for $800 million for the city schools.
They also wanted to temporarily take over the duties of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., if he were not to respond to that request and allocate the money.
In August 2004, Kaplan ruled that the state had unlawfully underfunded city schools by $400 million to $800 million since 2000. As a result, the students say their constitutional right to an adequate education has been denied.
Representing themselves yesterday, the students made their case forcefully to Kaplan, at times interrupting him when it became clear he was not going to rule in their favor. After one student told Kaplan it would be "great" if he would let the Algebra Project temporarily assume the powers of the state school board, the judge replied: "It may be great in your eyes, but I can't do that, OK?"
Kaplan praised the students for being a "mainstay" in the fight for adequate school funding. He told them to work together with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, something the students say they've tried.
Officials from the Maryland State Department of Education say they have put an extra $200 million into city schools since the 2002-2003 school year. Kaplan acknowledged the increased state contribution, which has occurred amid declining enrollment in the city schools. But he chastised the state for ordering corrective actions without a cost estimate.
"I can't believe that the state would be irresponsible enough to say, 'You do this, but we have no idea what it's going to cost,'" he said.
After the hearing, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said that many of the state-ordered reforms were first proposed by the city school system in a revision of its master plan. She said the federal government requires the state to impose corrective actions against failing school systems, but it is not the state's role to budget for Baltimore schools.
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