Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 1, 2024

Lack of funding haunts the public school system

By Patrice Hutton | September 21, 2006

Today the Baltimore City Public School System, the 25th largest in the country, celebrates its 177th birthday.

Nearly half a century older than Johns Hopkins, Baltimore City's public schools remain a stereotyped enigma to university students. As Hopkins students we scurry to Organic Chemistry and Poetic Forms, forgetting that there are thousands of youngsters -- ages five to 18 -- who are pursuing their educations as native residents of Baltimore. BCPSS currently operates three primary, 81 elementary, three intermediate, 30 K-8/Pre-K-8, 23 middle schools and six citywide, three citywide technical, 11 innovative, eight comprehensive, six alternative and eight special high schools.

Founded as a school district with a mission statement striving to integrate "students, families, and the broader community" for the cause of "preparing all students to be responsible citizens and afford them the opportunity to acquire the skills, knowledge, and abilities necessary to make informed decisions that lead to meaningful and productive lives," the Baltimore City Public School System has come under recent criticism from both the state and federal level, often cited as a district in irreparable turmoil.

Freshman year I enrolled in Dr. Stephen Plank's freshman seminar, "Education in the Media." My research for the course focused on how The Baltimore Sun portrayed Baltimore City public schools through newspaper coverage. I tracked a number of articles recounting a series of incidents in which students pulled the fire alarms as an excuse to take fights outside to the playground in addition to reading through startling statistics about the ostensibly high dropout rate among high school students.

Financial statistics aren't any more encouraging. Currently operating with a $64 million deficit, the BCPSS has had to resort to layoffs of teachers and staff, while simultaneously shutting down buildings. Of the 24 school districts in Maryland, BCPSS ranks as number 21 in spending, causing it to often be referred to as the most under-funded in the state. Until a decade ago BCPSS was governed by the City of Baltimore, but in 1997, the State of Maryland took control of the district in turmoil.

The Baltimore City Public School System remains in the eyes of some to be beyond repair, and serves only as a germinating ground for the crime and drug issues that plague Baltimore. In a city where a plethora of offerings for post-secondary education is available to students, it is puzzling why BCPSS seems to be the exact opposite of a breeding ground for stellar, successful students.

However, what is encouraging is that both the City of Baltimore and outside community groups have made major efforts in the past few years to bolster community involvement and revitalization of the school system.

In July 2004, Mayor Martin O'Malley launched the "Believe in Our Schools" campaign, which engaged more than 13,000 volunteers in $12 million worth of projects in 172 school locations. Additionally BCPSS's recent partnership with Community Schools -- an organization designed to integrate social services into school sites -- has helped many schools become community hubs.

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