Note from BEE:
This is the first of a four-part series of student essays regarding the state of Baltimore City schools and how the 2018 statewide election can improve students’ educational experiences. Please join us each Sunday as we post a new one, then join us in person at the BEE Gubernatorial Candidate Forum on Education on Wednesday, May 30, where we hold candidates accountable to Baltimore City students, parents and teachers. Please RSVP on Facebook and sign up on EventBrite so we know you’re coming!
Following a huge round of layoffs for city officials and teachers alike, we need to prevent another gigantic budget gap like last year’s deficit of over $129 million. We need to get more funding for students in Baltimore City Schools.
Baltimore Schools are underfunded and have been for a long time. This is due to Baltimore schools getting about 70% of its funding from the state, and state lawmakers have shown that the needs of Baltimore City Schools are not a priority. This means that we have a majority of our budget coming from people who don’t care about us.
To begin with I have a story. For most all of —if not my entire— middle school career, I have been in a class of around 30 or so students. These are the biggest classes my school has ever had, and it's because of a sad reason. My school, like many others, has been affected by the budget cuts and too low funding. Due to this, our school leaders have been forced to lay off teachers and combine classes. The end result is that teachers go without jobs, and students have fewer, more crowded classes. This affects our education as it is hard for us to get the teacher's attention, resulting in us not getting the help we need. It is getting bad, and it will get worse if we don’t take action. We need proper funding so we can have the teachers and support we need.
One of the biggest issues driving this problem is our state lawmakers. Many of them have shown repeatedly that the needs of city schools do not matter to them — through both legislative actions and their words. We get a whopping 70% of our school budget from the state, so when 70% of our education is in the hands of people who couldn’t care less about us, don’t you think that's an issue? Regardless of why they don’t care, be it race, wealth, or some other reason, when someone who couldn't care less about your ability to succeed in the world is the primary funder of your education, that's a serious issue that needs immediate fixing. We need them to increase our budget, and give us the money that state agencies and leaders have already shown to be owed us.
For instance, according to the state’s Department of Legislative Services, we should have gotten $290 million more every year since 2009. Or, if you listen to the Kirwan Commission's independent study, we should have gotten $358 million more dollars a year. No matter which study you believe more, this is simply unacceptable. For the sake of argument, let's split the difference and say that we should have gotten $324 million more dollars a year. This has been going on for the past nine years. If we got $324 million more dollars a year, like we should have, we’d have gotten almost $3 billion dollars in total. Even if you go with the lowest number, $290 million, that still means we should have gotten $2.6 billion more. No matter which numbers you use, we have been cheated out of literally billions of dollars. There should be no scenario ever in which anyone gets cheated out of billions of dollars. This is especially true when the people being cheated out of that money are children and it would have been spent on educating them.
We need to ask why this is. Students crowded into classrooms isn't a new sight in Baltimore City schools. Most other counties have had a time when they had what they needed. Maybe it was 40 years ago, maybe it's today, but Baltimore has had problems since my teachers were kids. For me, it looks like city schools struggle because students of color get ignored. I want the state lawmakers to prove me wrong. We may be too young to vote, but we can still share our opinions, and we need to be listened to.
We need to hold state lawmakers accountable and make them care about our needs. Either that means convincing our current lawmakers to care, or just voting them out of office and putting someone who will care in charge. Future millions, possibly even billions, of dollars rest on these actions.
Ben Fawley has been a Baltimore City Public Schools student since kindergarten. He is currently in the 8th grade.