Declaring that the State Constitution's mandate that all Maryland's schoolchildren be given an adequate education also covers their school buildings and amenities, the ACLU report details the relationship between school buildings and academic success.
The report responds to the work of the State's Task Force to Study Public School Facilities, established by the State to examine the adequacy and equity of public school buildings in Maryland. The Task Force was set up by the Maryland State Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence, otherwise known as the Thornton Commission. The Commission previously assumed, in making its initial funding assessments, that all public school buildings in Maryland were "adequate."
In February 2003, the Task Force released minimum adequacy guidelines for Maryland's public schools, which were based on 31 criteria that included everything from health and safety needs to appropriate recreational facilities. At the urging of the ACLU, the Task Force then required each of the 24 school jurisdictions to survey their schools and identify deficiencies by school according to the criteria. The survey results led to the realization that the cost of bringing all Maryland public school buildings to minimum adequacy would be close to $4 billion.
In an effort to determine which of the criteria were most related to student achievement, the ACLU of Maryland commissioned an analysis by Dr. Glen Earthman, a national facilities expert. He identified building deficiencies that highly correlate with both student achievement and student health, quantifying the extent to which student performance in poor and older buildings consistently falls short compared to that of students attending functional or acceptable buildings. His research demonstrates that students score between five to ten percentile points lower on achievement tests than students in functional buildings, after controlling for socioeconomic status.
Dr. Earthman advised the Task Force place priority on fixing health and safety issues first and then, in order of importance; replacing outdated HVAC systems, remedying air quality issues, providing adequate lighting, resolving acoustic issues, updating science labs and resolving overcrowding. At a minimum, the cost of remedying the school facility issues that most immediately impact student achievement is $2.5 billion.
"Dr. Earthman's report confirms what common sense tells us--that it's hard to learn when you're surrounded by physical distractions and deficiencies," said Bebe Verdery, director of the ACLU's Education Reform Project. "Yet for decades, cash-poor school systems have been ignoring school facilities just to get teachers in the classroom. That's robbing Peter to pay Paul and it explains why the ticket for the fix is large."
The ACLU has called on the State Task Force to recommend a short-term remedy to bring all school buildings in Maryland up to minimum adequacy. "Students cannot be expected to meet state standards if their schools lack proper heating and ventilation, lighting and science labs, nor should teachers be expected to teach in these conditions," said Susan Goering, Executive Director of the ACLU.