Across the United States, the average public and private high school student’s grade point average is a 3.0 or a B average on a 4.0 scale. An A-student will most likely carry a GPA closer to a 3.7 or a 4.0. In contrast, a C-student will typically hold an approximate 2.0 GPA. Concerns regarding public school systems in Maryland, particularly within Baltimore City, have arisen over the past few months. A West Baltimore high school is being called to shut down after continually promoting a student with a cumulative 0.1373 GPA.
At Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts in West Baltimore, Maryland, a 17-year-old student with a 0.1373 cumulative weighted GPA ranks 62 of 120 students. This student ranks almost in the top 50% of his class, as 58 students share either this same 0.1373 GPA or lower. The student, a senior, has only passed three courses during the almost four years that he has spent at Augusta Fells, which total a mere 2.5 credits earned. Despite this, he has continually been promoted through his coursework and was not required to repeat any classes. Despite failing English II, the student was allowed to progress into English III. For Spanish I and II and Algebra I and II, the same ordeal.
This student’s mother, Tiffany France, was shocked and appalled to learn that her son, who she expected to graduate this June, needed to repeat almost all his courses. In an interview with Project Baltimore, France said, “[her son] didn’t fail, the school failed him. The school failed at their job…they failed, that’s the problem here.” France, a hardworking mother of three, balances three jobs to keep a roof over their heads. France is determined to find an explanation for her son’s experience, saying that she refuses “to let him to be a statistic…to be nothing.”
Further, France’s son had reportedly been marked as absent or tardy for a total of 272 days since his freshman year. He had failed a total of twenty-two classes over that same period. Apparently, over the last four years, only one teacher had requested a conference to discuss France’s son’s grades and concerns regarding his absences. France denies that the school ever contacted her. Last month, the Baltimore City school district released a statement regarding the matter. School officials claimed that recent home visits had been conducted to the France house, that the student’s parents had visited the school, and that France had been notified via phone call each time her son was absent. However, France denies all these claims.
Reports of this incident have been met with mixed reactions, beginning with an anonymous City Schools administrator who spoke to Fox45 Baltimore. The official remained anonymous because they feared potential retribution from City Schools if they disclosed their identity.
According to the administrator, France’s son’s transcript is not shocking because low grades and attendance rates are more common than not within Baltimore City schools. The administrator also asserts that various school system issues play a significant role in the high crime rates, violence, and use of drugs in Baltimore City youth.
This breakthrough has led to much analysis of the fiscal practices of the public school system. In the past year, the Baltimore City school system had a $1.4 billion expenditure budget. The budget averages out to around $17,000 spent per each of the 78,000 students, while $5.5 million is allocated to a mere twenty top administrative officers working in Baltimore City Schools. Augusta Fells itself receives over $5.3 million in its funding from the state annually. Baltimore City’s mayor Brandon Scott attributes the school system’s failures to a lack of proper funding. According to the 2020 expenditure report, in the past year, $700,000 was spent for salaried “hall monitors,” to which Forbes journalist Adam Andrzejewski asks, with due reason, “if the students weren’t at school, why were hall monitors necessary?”.
During a press conference in March, the mayor said that the system had been underfunded by $300 million per year by the state of Maryland. However, Maryland’s Public Policy Institute Director Christopher Summers refuted the mayor’s claim. Summers argues that the school system’s issue is over-expenditure. According to Summers, Baltimore City spends about 25% more than the national average each year.
There is undeniably a connection between inner-city school failures, wealth disparities, and racial injustices. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Maryland public schools located in low-income, urban areas, with predominantly African American children, generally receive significantly lesser funding than those schools located in wealthy, suburban, and mainly White neighborhoods. While this is the case for public schools, similar conditions exist for private institutions in inner-city areas. The Institute of Notre Dame was a private, Catholic school in Baltimore City that closed last year due to budgetary issues. IND was a predominantly Black institution and was also the first school in the United States founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Notably, it was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s alma mater, as well. The majority of students from IND are now attending schools in suburban areas outside of Baltimore.
Especially as students across the nation return to in-person schools, parents, teachers, and city residents are continually questioning Baltimore City’s plans moving forward. Overcrowding, lack of maintenance staff and proper repairs, low staff retention, and below-average standardized test scores are just a few of the further issues apparent in City schools that must be addressed in the future. As of right now, the main question is this: how will the Baltimore City Public Schools system work to serve its purpose of providing a fair and equitable education to its students?