This week, the Center for Applied Public Research, in collaboration with leadership at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, launched an interactive dashboard illustrating the hours of school missed by students in Baltimore City Public Schools because of older infrastructure, which leads to failure of heating and cooling systems. The data shows that in Baltimore, where three quarters of students are black and more than half come from low income families, students are missing valuable educational time because of historical underinvestment in school construction and maintenance.

Josh Sharfstein, a lead JHU faculty member on this project, notes “education and health go together hand in hand. When children in Baltimore cannot reach their potential because of the physical condition of their schools, it’s terrible for their health too. That’s why it’s so important to fix these serious problems.” Dr. Sharfstein teaches health policy and management and leads the Bloomberg School’s work in the practice of public health.

Despite previous efforts in 2013 to fund the building or renovation of school facilities in Baltimore City, failures of HVAC systems when the weather is hot or cold, coupled with the school district’s updated policy on weather-related closures, mean that students are missing critical time in school – time that matters for educational attainment. During the 2018-19 school year, students in Baltimore City Public Schools collectively lost more than 500,000 school hours. 

Education is a priority for the Maryland General Assembly this session.  Last week, the House Appropriations Committee heard testimony from Baltimore Mayor Jack Young, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball in support of a significant school construction bill, the Built to Learn Act of 2020, that would dedicate $2.2 billion in funding for school construction over five years.

The Built to Learn Act was filed as House Bill 1 to signal that this issue is a priority for legislators. Presently, Maryland dedicates about $400 million per year in capital funds for school repairs and construction. The additional funding authorized through this bill would come from bonds that will be repaid by revenue generated through Maryland’s casinos.

Poor physical condition of schools is connected to absenteeism, lower test scores, lower student achievement, and poor health outcomes. In Baltimore City in particular, chronic absenteeism is higher among black students, who also have lower rates of attendance. These problems can affect not just students but entire communities. 

To read the full report and explore school closures citywide, by school and by cause, please see this interactive story map