Bradford v. Maryland Board of Education

Date Filed: 03/07/2019


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) represent the plaintiffs in Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education on behalf of a class of parents of students attending public schools in Baltimore City. In 1996, the Circuit Court in Bradford declared that students in Baltimore City were not receiving the “thorough and efficient” public school education to which they are entitled under Article VIII of the Maryland Constitution. In later rulings the Court repeatedly found that the State was continuing to violate its constitutional duty to Baltimore City students, including providing insufficient funding for an adequate education.

Black and Latinx students compose approximately 90 percent of Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPSS) student population. Year after year, the State fails to sufficiently invest in BCPSS schools. This has stifled the educational opportunity of thousands of Black and Brown children. The shameful reality of the barriers created by unequal funding was on display last year when students in 87 Baltimore City schools – over half of all public schools in the City – attended class in rooms without heat or with limited heat. As a result, over the course of a two- week period, over 60 schools were forced to close, with thousands of students forced to miss days at a time. This past summer, numerous schools again were forced to close, because classrooms had no air conditioning. Nearly 40 percent of all BCPSS schools lack air conditioning.

Baltimore City’s school buildings are by far the oldest in the state. Over 80 percent of the system’s 158 schools are in “very poor” or “poor” condition. The well-documented problems include lack of drinkable water due to un-remediated lead in water pipes, ancient boiler systems, roofs in need a replacement, and deficient electrical and fire safety systems. Moreover, the State’s own figures show that the City schools have an annual “adequacy gap” of at least $290 million in educational funding, and the Kirwan Commission studies show that Baltimore City needs at least $358 million in additional annual funding to support educational programs.

See an interactive timeline, videos, and legal documents for Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education here.


In a January 22 2019 letter to Governor Larry Hogan on behalf of concerned parents and families, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) expressed grave concern that that the State was not addressing either the massive gap between current and constitutionally-adequate educational funding or the immediate infrastructure needs of Baltimore City’s aging school buildings, which disproportionately harms students of color. The letter calls on the State to address this pivotal racial equity issue and ensure the State of Maryland fulfills its constitutional duty to students in Baltimore City.

On March 7, 2019, a group of concerned parents and civil rights organizations are returned to court to reopen the historic Bradford vs. Maryland State Board of Education litigation that spurred the “Thornton” statewide funding formula in 2002. LDF and the ACLU filed a request in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to reopen the historic Bradford lawsuit that ordered a revamping of the state’s education funding formula. It would also hold the State accountable for its failure to provide the necessary funding to both provide a quality education and to address the abysmal physical conditions of school facilities that disrupt students’ ability to learn.

The Baltimore City Council voted on April 29 2019 to pass a resolution supporting the Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education lawsuit brought by city schoolchildren and their families challenging inadequate state funding for Baltimore City schools. 

On October 15 2019 The legal team representing concerned parents and students in Baltimore City wrote to members of the Kirwan Commission urging them to directly and fully address racial and wealth inequities. The Maryland Constitution requires the Kirwan Commission to allocate adequate funding to the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS), and similarly situated jurisdictions. Yet, the proposed changes to the plan were insufficient to address the systemic underfunding in the district. According to the state Department of Legislative Services, the gap between what was judged by the State to be required for BCPSS to provide a quality education and what was actually funded – was $342 million in FY 2017.  Over time, Baltimore City students have been deprived of over $2 billion in constitutionally-required funding. 

On January 21 2020, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City forcefully rejected an attempt by the State of Maryland to dismiss Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education. This victory brings Baltimore City students closer to securing the adequate and equitable education they deserve. Not only does this decision uphold the continued importance of a consent decree in the case and the court’s previous rulings, but it underscores the right of the Maryland Judiciary to have the final say as to the state constitutional requirement that the State provide children an adequate education. Judge Audrey Carrion rejected out of hand the State’s argument that such issues present “a political question” that Maryland judges are powerless to address.  Judge Carrion further ruled that the families’ requests for equitable relief are not subject to statutes of limitations, but even if they were, advocates’ diligence in fighting for children for nearly two decades makes the lawsuit timely.

After the Blueprint Bill was passed this March, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) calls on the State’s Senate to amend the bill so that its funding formula sufficiently addresses pre-existing inequities between counties with high wealth and those with low wealth. While the bill’s funding increase represents a commendable first step toward addressing educational funding problems in Maryland, it is insufficient to address the decades-long deprivation of adequate funding for Baltimore City Schools. In 2017, a review by the State’s Department of Legislative Services revealed that Baltimore City Schools were underfunded by an estimated $342 million per year, leading to, among other things, some of the highest student to teacher ratios in the state.

“Right now, the Blueprint bill presumes that students in all school districts in Maryland start from the same place,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel. “The reality is that there is a decades-long, massive adequacy gap that Maryland must fully account for when determining the amount of funding to be provided to each district. Baltimore City is one of only two jurisdictions that does not currently receive sufficient funding to provide children with an adequate education.”

On December 15 2020, the Bradford v. Maryland State Department of Education legal team hosted a press conference with advocates in support of a letter sent the day before by parents of students attending public schools in Baltimore City to Governor Larry Hogan, Senate President Bill Ferguson, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones. The advocates urged state leaders to act now and take specific steps to support the students’ right to an education and fulfill the state’s responsibility under the Maryland Constitution and binding court orders.  The letter detailed how the fiscal year 2022 budget and legislative session is an opportunity to recognize the unconstitutional lack of educational resources in Baltimore City, stop the snowballing generational effects of underfunded education, and make these communities whole.