The Story of Our $1 Billion Win

In 2013, members of Transform Baltimore: Build Schools, Build Neighborhoods won House Bill 2013 during the state legislative session in Annapolis, which is estimated to generate $1 billion to fully rebuild or renovate up to 28 schools in Baltimore City. This large-scale school construction program was conceived by and promoted by group of education, youth, and community advocates in Baltimore City. Beginning with the ACLU Education Reform Project's policy and advocacy work over a decade ago, the issue of fixing Baltimore's crumbling school facilities slowly emerged as a priority as people became more aware of the deplorable and harmful conditions that children and teachers had to endure everyday in their schools. And people began to realize that new and renovated 21st century school buildings would not only benefit students, but also neighborhoods that were plagued with decades of disinvestment. 

The campaign gained many supporters and champions, including the Baltmiore Education Coalition, which worked to build the groundswell and demand city and state leaders to act on Transform Baltimore's large-scale school construction proposal. Along the way, we were consistently disuaded by people who believed that "this is not possible," "the city doesn't have the money," and "there's no way they'll agree to this proposal." But we knew it was possible and that our proposal could lead to long lasting benefits for city students, families, and neighborhoods. Eventually, we gained the support of the CEO of City Schools, Dr. Alonso, city and state elected leaders, Mayor Rawlings-Blake, House Speaker Busch, and other state legislators to win House Bill 860 in 2013.  

The Early Years (2002 - 2008):  The Flawed Funding System

The issue of deficient school buildings began to emerge as a result of the ACLU's 1994 Bradford lawsuit and subsequent work on the Bridge to Excellence Act of 2002 or the "Thornton" law - the current education funding law. "Thornton" funding addressed everything but school facility infrastructure improvements - capital costs. During the General Assembly of 2002, the state legislature established the Task Force to Study Public School Facilities headed by State Treasurer Nancy Kopp. The ACLU's policy and advocacy work helped to shape the work of the Kopp Task Force. The ACLU released a report, Funding for Education Facilities, in 2003 that highlighted successful funding programs in other states. Further, to ensure that the state was focusing on the most critical elements of school facilities, the ACLU commissioned Dr. Glen Earthman's report, "Prioritzation of 31 Criteriaof 31 Criteria for School Building Adequacy."

 

As a result of the Kopp Task Force's findings, the Maryland legislature passed the Public School Facilities Act of 2004, which increased the state allocation to school construction statewide to a minimum of $250 million annually. Even with more state funding, Baltimore City Public Schools ("City Schools") struggled to renovate and repair its school buildings given the heavy backlog in deferred maintainence and capital needs.  Further, given that the city had more school buildings than needed due to significant loss of enrollment over recent decades, the state mandated City Schools to close some schools to "right size" its inventory. From 2005-2008, City Schools held countless meetings with communities to determine which schools to close and reconfigure and developed a new master plan called Facility Solutions.

 

The plan estimated that it would cost $2.8 billion to bring all city school buildings to modern standards. With approximately $60 million in state and city funding expected annually, City Schools could only rebuild one school and fix a dozen leaky roofs, faulty boilers, and replace broken windows at other schools each year.  It was clear that under the current system, city school buildings were deteriorating faster than they could be fixed and that the vision of new and renovated schools for all children would never become reality. A new approach was needed. 

 

2009-2010:  ACLU Introduces a Winning Proposal for Baltimore CIty

 

In an effort to expose and fix the flawed funding system, the ACLU compiled research and highlighted successful financing models used by other states and districts to comprehensively address their school construction needs. The ACLU's report, Buildings for Academic Excellence: A Vision and Options to Address Deficient School Facilities in Baltimore City, caught the attention of CEO Dr. Alonso and city school system staff, elected officials, and the media. Based on the models highlighted in the report, City Schools began working with the ACLU on developing a more detailed proposal. At this time, the ACLU also discussed financing strategies with the Mayor and state legislators, and presented at a hearing to Baltimore City council members.         

 

By the end of 2010, the Mayor and the school system CEO launched a School Construction Task Force to study the models highlighted in the ACLU's report. The primary concept of the financing proposal was to lock-in existing revenue for school city construction - approximately $60 million/year - to leverage about $1 billion up front to build many schools quickly. Building many schools quickly drastically reduces cost increases related to inflation and construction cost escalation. To illustrate a more detailed financing model for Baltimore City, the ACLU released its second report, A Proposal to Finance a Full Scale Modernization of Baltimore City Public School Facilities, and presented to the Task Force in January 2011.  

 

2011:  Advocates Launch the Transform Baltimore: Build Schools, Build Neighborhoods Campaign

 

In August 2011, the ACLU worked with the Baltimore Education Coalition (BEC), BUILD, Child First Authority, Greater Homewood Community Corporation, Elev8, City Neighbors Foundation, Baltimore Curriculum Project, and dozens of other groups to launch the Transform Baltimore: Build Schools, Build Neigbhorhoods campaign to develop a grassroots movement to move the ACLU's proposal forward. The campaign called upon city and state officials to adopt and implement a funding plan based on successful large scale school consturction models to fully rebuild and renovate all of Baltimore City's schools buildings within 10 years.  

 

Beginning in the summer of 2011, the campaign successfully made Transform Baltimore's goal one of the primary issues in the Mayoral race by questioning candidates at forums, on radio shows, TV new stories, and print media.  BUILD also held its own forum asking the candidates for a new revenue source for school construction. In the fall, BEC activated 50 school communities to generate thousands of cards and phones calls to the Mayor, urging her to take action swiftly (See coverage of the Transform Baltimore Speak Out!). Shortly after the campaign's actions, the Mayor committed to dedicating a portion of the city's gambling revenue, raising the beverage container tax by 3 cents, and triggering an increase in state funds by shifting retired teacher pensions contributions to the school system. Altogether, these sources were estimated to provide approximately $23 million annually to school construction. Committed as annual payments for 30 years, it was estimated that this revenue could generate approximately $325 million for city school construction.  (See Baltimore Sun article "Mayor Plans to Raise Bottle Tax for School Construction).

 

2012: Our Proposal Adopted by City Schools, Affirmed Through State Study

 

City Schools and the city delegation were ready to introduce a bill during General Assembly 2012.  Based on Transform Baltimore's proposal, City Schools released its own report, "The School Buildings Our Kids Deserve - Now" to support House Bill 304 (Baltimore City - School Construction - Block Grant), filed by Delegate Keith Haynes and supported by most of the City House Delegation. On the Senate side, Senator Verna Jones crossfiled Senate Bill 533 with the full support of the city Senate Delegation.  HB304/SB533 sought to mimick Greenville, South Carolina's school construction program by using existing state capital dollars to leverage larger bonds. The Transform Baltimore campaign and BEC worked with the city school system and delegation, and met with dozens of state legislators to move the bill forward. In the end, the bill did not pass but the legislature ordered the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) to study the proposal. The legislature was also dissatisfied with the city's commitment and demanded more "skin in the game."

 

To satisfy the legislature's concerns, BUILD, ACLU, and BEC immediately began working to pass the 5-cent beverage container tax through the Baltimore CIty Council. Despite the beverage industry opposition to the tax increase, the coalition brought hundreds of parents, teachers, and students to the city council hearings and prevailed (Read CBS news' "City Officals Pass Bottle Tax Increase").  

 

During this time, the State IAC was charged with convening relevant state and city officials to provide answers to the legislature's concerns about the financing proposal's feasibility, legality, affect on the state's credit rating, and implementation of a large and unprecedented school construction program. The ACLU was invited to participate in the workgroup due to its content experitse on the subject. After much debate and research, the IAC's report, Baltimore City: Public School Construction Program Block Grant Funding, was released in January 2013 to the state legsiature, which stated that Transform Baltimore's proposal would "allow the school system to build new schools and fully renovate old schools, in contrast to the current approach of patching leaks and making temporary repairs, such as placing new equipment into old systems." 

 

During this time, BEC and the Transform Baltimore campaign continued to generate support among the city delegation and Mayor.  At its event in November 2012, One Night, One Bill, One Baltimore, BEC received commitments from the city delegation and Mayor to enter the legislative session in Annapolis in 2013 as a united front with coalition members to pass the block grant bill (Read Baltimore Sun's article, "Baltimore Education Coalition plans Tuesday rally for Facilities Funding").

 

2013:  Winning the $1 Billion Program

 

Armed with the IAC's favorable report on the block grant approach, our campaign, the Mayor, city delegation, and school system worked together in Annapolis to pass the revised bill, HB860 - Baltimore City School Construction and Revitalization Act of 2013.  With a united city front and support from the House Speaker, the Transform Baltimore campaign was on its way to victory. During the negotiations, the revenue source was changed from using existing capital funds to cash revenue from State lottery proceeds, City, and city school system. And the state decided to use its own oversight and management structure - the Maryland Stadium Authority - for the implementation of the program.   

 

BEC continued to meet with state legislators, testified at hearings on the bill, and organized a 3,000-person rally in front of the State Capital in March 2013.  When the bill hit the Senate and House floors, it passed with overwhelming support (Read Baltimore Brew's "School Construction Plan Gets Long-Sought Annapolis Approval").

 

HB860 secures $60 million in revenue annually - $20 million from each the state, city, and city school system - over the next 30 years for the city school construction plan.  The Maryland Stadium Authority has estimated that $60 million in annual revenue can leverage approximately $1 billion and fully rebuild or renovate up to 28 school buildings by the end of 2020. City Schools' 10-year plan calls for the full renovation or rebuilding of 136 school buildings. The campaign will continue to advocate for every school building in the 10-year plan to be completed.