Amidst Social Upheaval Over Freddie Gray's Death
City Council Unanimously Calls on Mayor to Increase Funding for Proven Community Schools Strategy
Resolution urges Mayor to expand funding to Community Schools & Out of School time in Baltimore
With little more than a week before the Mayor sends her FY2016 budget to the City Council, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night urging her to increase funding for Community Schools and Out-of-School-Time (OST). The Council's ask is to increase funding from $6 to $10 million, which would fund an estimated 60 Community Schools and 6,000 kids in OST next year – up from 48 schools and not quite 4,000 kids this year. This investment of an additional $4 million is expected to leverage an additional $4 million in state and private dollars.
“Youth development isn't another priority in competition with public safety; youth development is public safety. Community schools and out-of-school-time programs . . . are among the tools city government has available to prevent not just crime, but criminals,” Councilman Bill Henry insisted at a press conference before the Council meeting last night. “For years, many of us have preached this gospel . . .that we will not simply police our way out of our current situation.” He ended his remarks noting, “This increase represents less than 1% of what the city will spend on the police.”
The Mayor's initial budget includes flat funding despite the number of schools wanting to become Community Schools and to add OST. Councilman Carl Stokes noted that a school in his district, Johnston Square, has told him that they very much need City support to launch the strategy.
Renaissance Academy High School Principal Nikkia Rowe, joined by three of her students, underscored the need for Community Schools. “What recent events have shown us is that communities need to be connected in order to thrive -- connected to self, connected to neighbor, connected to schools, connected to city leaders,” Rowe said. “What community schools can help provide is that connection. . . A community school invites community partners – whether individuals or organizations – to use the school building as a place for connection.”
Warren Wiggins, a mentor with a Higher Achievement in Cherry Hill, emphasized how OST offers a safe alternative to the streets where young people can interact with peers and caring adults, which he noted is particularly invaluable in the current climate.
The Baltimore Teacher's Union also backed the resolution.“We have long believed in the power of community schools and are ecstatic the city council joins us in recognizing their value,” stated Marietta English, BTU President and Chair of the Baltimore Education Roundtable. “They allow for wrap around services that address the mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual health of the young person. As we know our students in Baltimore bring a range of issues and challenges with them into school every day.”
Baltimore has employed an integrated Community Schools and OST strategy since 2009. A Community School is a public school that builds partnerships and finds community resources to bring needed programs and services to the school, families and the local community. A full-time community school coordinator at each school collaborates with the principal to find needed services and resources for students, their families, and the neighborhood. Parents, families, teachers and community members help identify the needs and aspirations of each school. Community schools emphasizes student engagement and attendance, impacting public safety both short-term and long-term. Alternative, restorative disciplinary practices are employed, dramatically reducing suspensions, creating positive school environments and otherwise interrupting the school to prison pipeline.
At the heart of a great Community School is before and after school programs for kids that support learning and academics, bring enrichment in art, science, technology, build community cohesion and more. OST programs at Community Schools are among the most fully utilized and essential to student and parent engagement and the schools meeting their ambitious academic and social goals.