An attempt by the ACLU of Maryland and the Legal Defense Fund to resurrect a nearly 30-year-old lawsuit to gain more state funding for Baltimore City schools was scuttled by a Circuit Court Judge earlier this month.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion ruled on March 3 in favor of the state, granting summary judgment in Bradford v. the Maryland State Board of Education.

The ruling was a disappointment to the two civil rights organizations who had argued that the city’s public school children were not being granted an ”adequate education” as required under the state constitution.

After the lawsuit was first filed three decades ago, the state and city entered into a consent decree in 1997 that led to a new law requiring more equitable funding of public education. But advocates have argued that over the years the legislature shortchanged the city under the law, and in March 2019, the civil rights organizations went to court to reopen the landmark lawsuit, saying that the state was once again failing the city’s children.

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Carrion wrote that the Maryland Constitution “only requires an effort by the State to at most provide a basic education,” and said the state legislature has the responsibility, not the courts, in deciding on school funding.

Legal Defense Fund Attorney Alaizah Koorji said Carrion had misconstrued the constitutional standard of what an adequate education is and “that creates a seriously bad precedent for education advocates throughout Maryland who may bring a case.” Koorji said the ACLU and the Legal Defense Fund have not made a decision on whether to file an appeal.

Koorji said the state’s recent use of Medicaid as a way to identify students living in poverty has given more money to Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, while Baltimore City gets no more money. She said that highlights the inequities now apparent in the state funding model.

“In 1996, 2000, 2002, and 2004, Maryland Courts repeatedly found that funding for Baltimore City schools was constitutionally inadequate. Yet, a permanent plan was never implemented that addressed structural inequity for students in Baltimore City, where generations of Black and Brown children have been denied adequate and equitable resources compared to the wealthier school systems that surround them,” the ACLU and Legal Defense Fund said in a statement.

The Maryland State’s Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

liz.bowie@thebaltimorebanner.com

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