JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: a pair of stories
in Baltimore, and the serious problems residents face with some civic institutions. Schools in Maryland’s biggest city close occasionally
due to winter weather, but the problems in Baltimore public schools this season have
highlighted much bigger questions. Outrage erupted last month after students
found themselves in frigid classrooms when heating systems failed in at least 60 schools. It’s opened up a larger debate about funding
and fixing them. John Yang has both of our reports tonight,
beginning with our weekly segment, Making the Grade. WOMAN: We got to protest and we got to stand
up for our kids as parents. JOHN YANG: In the jam-packed cafeteria of
an East Baltimore high school, the head of the city’s school system faced frustrated
parents. WOMAN: What happened to the maintenance keeping
that school up? WOMAN: I agree with you. And you should be angry. JOHN YANG: What sparked this heated outpouring? Images that went viral on social media in
early January of children bundled in coats, hats and scarves in aging classrooms barely
warmer than the frigid temperatures outside. More than a third of the city’s 171 public
schools, the oldest in state, reported a lack of heat. A handful closed for repairs. Boilers and pipes froze and burst, flooding
classrooms, collapsing ceiling tiles and ruining newly upgraded equipment. While the problems were brought on by a brief
cold snap, they underscored longstanding funding issues. Parents and teachers demanded answers, as
did students. JON GRAY, Student: Everybody wants to succeed,
and it’s hard for students, or it’s hard for teachers to help their students succeed if
it’s cold, if it’s freezing cold. JOHN YANG: Jon Gray is a sophomore at Baltimore
City College, a selective-admissions college prep high school. He says he had seen heating problems before,
but nothing like this. JON GRAY: So, let’s say I have failed a class. I can go to coach class, so I can study up. But if I come to school, and there is no heat,
I can’t really go downstairs and cut the heat on. So it makes students feel, like, powerless. JOHN YANG: What does it feel like to come
to a school where the heat is so bad, you have to wear your coat in class? There are signs in the bathroom telling you
not to drink the water? JON GRAY: Kind of just makes you look back,
like, where is our support? When are things going to, like, move or change
for us? JOHN YANG: Rosalyn Taylor’s son Jaden (ph)
is a fifth-grader at Leith Walk Elementary/Middle School in North
Baltimore, one of the schools that closed. ROSALYN TAYLOR, Parent: When I went to pick
Jaden up from school, I noticed that it was really, really cold in the building. And I was like, why is it so cold in here? And they was like, well, we didn’t have any
heat. JOHN YANG: What does this make you think of
the Baltimore Public Schools? ROSALYN TAYLOR: I think about transparency
of what is happening with the funding that we get for each student. Where’s the money going? And where’s my taxpayer dollars going? JOHN YANG: Baltimore City schools have a $1.3
billion operating budget. Nearly three-quarters of it comes from the
state of Maryland. Despite that state aid, city schools still
had to close a $130 million deficit in the last spending year. The school board is still making cuts everywhere,
including to maintenance. Between 2013 and 2017, Maryland allocated
$12.8 million to Baltimore to deal with aging schools. After the cold snap, Maryland Governor Larry
Hogan announced he would spend $2.5 million of the state’s emergency fund on immediate
repairs. He also said he would give Baltimore schools
an additional $11 million next year. Hogan said his administration has made school
heating and cooling projects a priority. He blames district leadership for maintenance
problems. GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R), Maryland: We simply cannot
allow children to be punished year after year because their adult leaders are failing. DR. SONJA SANTELISES, CEO, Baltimore City Public
Schools: We resort to a knee-jerk response of, it must be mismanagement. JOHN YANG: Sonja Santelises is the CEO of
Baltimore City Public Schools. DR. SONJA SANTELISES: Baltimore City has more
need. You can’t look at underfunding for numbers
of years and then say for a year or two we’re going to give you $10 million more, and that
makes up for the millions upon millions of dollars that the school system didn’t get. I actually think that’s a bit disingenuous,
and it’s overly simplistic. JOHN YANG: She says part of the problem is
how the state awards maintenance funding. Districts with cash on hand can pay for repairs
and then ask for reimbursement. But Baltimore schools often can’t afford to
pay for those projects up front. DR. SONJA SANTELISES: We’re coming with a guess,
where other counties are coming with a receipt. If I’m going to take responsibility for improving
the maintenance of school buildings, the oversight of those school buildings, then, quite frankly,
others need to take responsibility for making sure the investment and the funds are there. JOHN YANG: A 2012 report from the district
found 69 percent of schools in very poor condition and estimated it would take $2.5 billion to
update them. Rosemont Elementary/Middle is one of the schools
in need of repair. The school’s 47-year-old roof was scheduled
to be replaced in January, until the school told parents there was asbestos. BRYANT WHITENER, Parent: I was frustrated. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was betrayed, misled. JOHN YANG: Bryant Whitener’s 5-year-old daughter,
Jamaya (ph), is a pre-K student at Rosemont. BRYANT WHITENER: When these parents in this
community or in any community wake up in the morning, the first thing they don’t want to
have to worry about is, is it safe for my child to go to school inside of the building? JOHN YANG: Whitener and other parents organized
a school boycott, keeping their children at home until the district rescheduled the repairs
for the summer break. BRYANT WHITENER: I would rather have my kids
in an environment where’s it’s a zero risk. Not a small risk. Not 1 percent. Not a 2 percent. Not a half-percent. JOHN YANG: In 2013, Baltimore school officials
launched a 10-year, billion-dollar upgrade to nearly two dozen schools, the 21st Century
School buildings plan. DR. SONJA SANTELISES: What you see now is an investment
of over $1 billion, because we knew we needed new schools. JOHN YANG: Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle
School was one of the first to be rebuilt. Monique Debi is the principal. MONIQUE DEBI, Principal, Fort Worthington
Elementary/Middle School: It feels good to be in a space that has technology for children,
that has interactive smart boards. We have the flex furniture here and a collaborative
space. JOHN YANG: As a school principal and as an
educator, what does it mean to be in a facility like this? MONIQUE DEBI: I think this atmosphere speaks
to the investment that we’re making in our children and our families and in their future. And so when they have what they need to learn
and the basic need is met, the worry is less, and you’re able to focus more on teaching
and learning. JOHN YANG: But the plan only calls for between
23 and 28 new buildings out of at least 140 in need of repair, and is completion now set
for 2021. For Jon Gray, the Baltimore City college sophomore,
that’s too few and too far in the future. JON GRAY: I can’t worry about whether or not
I know everything on this test to pass if I can’t even focus. I’m cold. We need an answer now, because while we’re
building those schools, students are still cold. The water is still dirty. We need money to be able to build our 21st
century schools, but at the same time keep up the schools we have now. JOHN YANG: Without long-term solutions to
decades-old funding problems, Baltimore students are likely to continue to struggle in classrooms
that are either too cold or, with spring approaching, too hot for learning. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m John Yang in Baltimore.

Freezing classrooms spark heated debate over Baltimore’s school infrastructure
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