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  October 16, 2017

As the Rich Get Richer, Public Schools Suffer

During a hearing on how to create more equitable funding for public schools in Maryland officials revealed how tax breaks for wealthy developers in Baltimore could threaten future funding
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TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. Is school funding fair? Well, that's why the Kirwan Commission has gathered inside here today, in order to discuss what they consider an outdated funding formula. In fact, they're asking for another $2.9 billion to make sure that Baltimore City public schools are safe, fair, and equitable for the children.

SPEAKER: Our democracy counts on people being able to ask good, critical questions. The founding of our country, the ending of slavery and the fight for civil rights that continues to this day, is dependent on people being able to ask good, critical questions.

TAYA GRAHAM: The testimony in front of the Kirwan Commission, a body tasked with making Maryland school funding more equitable was passionate.

SPEAKER: I know that other schools, whether they are in private or wealthier zip codes provide their students with access to accelerated course work. This advantage provides students with ample opportunity to go to college. For them, college is an expectation. For us sometimes feels like a dream.

TAYA GRAHAM: Students and advocates sharing the podium to urge officials to fund education equally, which many say has been lacking for decades.

SPEAKER: On one level this issue is indeed complex. It could be controversial and it's intertwined with nearly every major cross current in our society. But on another level, it really is starkly very simple. It is a question of equity.

TAYA GRAHAM: For decades, Baltimore's majority Black school district has been underfunded, because the formula for state aid ignored the impact of concentrated poverty. A funding formula, which failed to take into account a litany of ills, which have afflicted the city: hyper segregation, redlining, and lead poisoning. And while Maryland schools rank among the top in the nation, Baltimore City students lag as they try to learn in crumbling buildings and unsafe classrooms.

SPEAKER: However, the new formula must ensure that the state meets its constitutional mandate to provide quality education for every student in Maryland, including in our city.

TAYA GRAHAM: But even as city leaders professed a commitment to more funding for city schools, a little known fact emerged.

SPEAKER: While the school board it totally agrees with and understands the need for economic incentives, such as tax increment financing and payment in lieu of taxes or commonly known as pilots, we urge the commission to recognize the city and other jurisdictions that use such economic incentives that will only make them appear wealthy on paper.

TAYA GRAHAM: A ticking time bomb, lurking in the form of incentives the city has bestowed upon wealthy developers to build luxury apartments.

SPEAKER: They introduced legislation in 2016 to hold districts harmless in their state education aid that was negatively impacted by TIFFs. This legislation holds harmless through fiscal year '19. We strongly urge the commission to allow this legislation to be permanently applied, but expand it to include all economic incentives and not merely just TIFFs.

TAYA GRAHAM: It was a potential loss of state dollars that could overwhelm any restorative funding initiative. That's because the rich developers, who are building these luxury apartments do not have to pay taxes for years. Meanwhile, when the state calculates school funding it includes the value of buildings in determining Baltimore's share, even if they're not paying taxes which means the city stands to lose millions as it tries to fix decades of unequal funding.

SPEAKER: What we want you to know is that buildings don't create great students. Teachers and resources do.

TAYA GRAHAM: A harsh truism that in Baltimore, like the rest of the country, as the rich get richer, public schools get poorer. It's a problem that many testified goes beyond education.

SPEAKER: Community schools and afterschool programming are proven strategies that support low-income students and families.

TAYA GRAHAM: Creating conditions which lead to crime, unemployment, and social despair.

SPEAKER: The Baltimore City School Board has tasked our CEO to develop a plan that does address the social and emotional needs of our children. And I'm hopeful that the commission's recommendations will also take into account the social and emotional needs and how they need to be supported to assure that our students can learn.

TAYA GRAHAM: In a city that spends far more on police than education, education spending is the best way to reduce crime. But the question is, can the city and state restore equity to funding and right a historical wrong: denying resources to those who most badly need them.

SPEAKER: Students are not afraid of rigorous courses but we need the resources to allow us to complete them, also to compete, not just among other Maryland students but the world.

TAYA GRAHAM: Can a community committed to giving generous subsidies to the richest, ever truly fix an institution meant to serve us all?

SPEAKER: It is imperative that we fund schools in order to change the nature of our city. Public funded education leads to a safer and sounder Baltimore. Thank you.

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.


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