Why did we need legislation to fix Baltimore City Schools?
Baltimore City Public School buildings are in a state of crisis. The schools, many of which were built before WWII, lack basic amenities necessary to adequately educate children - heat, light, electrical outlets, many even lack drinkable water. The estimated cost to bring the school buildings up to modern standards is $2.4 billion. However, the standard system of funding school construction, where the city and the state provide relatively small amounts of capital funding on a project-by-project basis, was not capable of creating change on the scale necessary to provide all Baltimore children with healthy, safe, and modern school buildings in our lifetime. (Click here to read more about the problem) In order to develop a comprehensive solution for Baltimore City's crumbling school infrastructure, State and City leaders needed to open the door to innovative financing options, first proposed for Baltimore by the ACLU study Buildings for Academic Excellence in 2010.
Without such a bold plan, Baltimore City children would continue to attend substandard facilities for generations while waiting for the standard patchwork approach to address even the most basic of needs within their schools. The ACLU's proposal was introduced in HB 860, which would establish an innovative solution to financing $1 billion of the $2.4 billion need in through the large scale construction project envisioned by the Baltimore City Public School System in their comprehensive 10-Year Plan.
Without immediate action, the cost of addressing the growing crisis of dilapidated school buildings in Baltimore City would continue to increase. This legislation begins a comprehensive revitalization program, which includes rebuilding or renovating approximately 40 schools as part of Phase I. The Maryland Stadium Authority will borrow $1 billion up-front to finance the historic investment in school buildings today and pay for the improvements over time. This is similar to what other jurisdictions around the country have done to address their own school facility crises successfully.
The evolution of the legislation:
Originally, the bill asked for the Capital Investment Program (CIP) funds that are administered through the Public School Construction Program to be given to the city in a predictable "block grant" that would allow these funds to be leveraged. This idea was thoroughly vetted in a summer study led by the Interagency Committee on School Construction. Ultimately the legislation was revised to use cash contributions from the city, state, and school system to finance the first phase of construction instead of the bond funds from the CIP. The details of the bill are summarized below:
Establishes a partnership between the State, Baltimore City, and Baltimore City Public Schools:
- The State has agreed to invest $20 million per year in cash from lottery proceeds to help fund Phase I of the project;
- Baltimore City will contribute $20 million per year in funding from sources including the Beverage Container Tax, part of the ground rent of the Baltimore casino, a portion of the proceeds from table games, and additional state aid that is generated due to an agreement on school system retiree health benefits payments;
- Baltimore City Schools will contribute $20 million per year towards the projects which will be funded from the savings from new and modern buildings, school closures, and projected increases in State and City aid to education.
Establishes the Maryland Stadium Authority as the Administrator to oversee the financing and construction of Baltimore City Public School Buildings:
- replaces the originally proposed Baltimore City School Construction Authority as the coordinator for the construction program;
- is empowered to act on behalf of Baltimore City Public Schools to acquire, construct, or improve public school facilities;
- will issue debt and manage the finances for Phase I of the school construction plan;
- will build approximately 15 new schools and BCPS will oversee the major renovation projects for a total of 50+ new and renovated schools in Baltimore over the next 6 years!
Establishes a process for accountability and reporting:
- Ensures all school buildings will continue to be reviewed and approved through the current state process with the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) to safeguard quality;
- Requires the Maryland Stadium Authority to seek Board of Public Works approval before issuing bonds and to report on the progress of the program to the Maryland General Assembly each year;
- Prescribes a four-party Memorandum of Understanding, that will detail the roles and responsibilities of Baltimore City, City Schools, the IAC, and the Maryland Stadium Authority to be completed no later than October 1st, 2013.