Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lawsuit: Baltimore’s schools are failing students, taxpayers

Lawyer Scott Marden, right, stands with Jovani and Shawnda Patterson to announce the filing of a lawsuit against Baltimore City Public Schools. (The Daily Record/Madeleine O’Neill)

A new lawsuit brought by a former Republican candidate for  Baltimore City Council president claims that city taxpayers are not receiving their money’s worth from the struggling public school system.

The plaintiffs are Jovani Patterson, who fell short in his 2020 bid to lead the council, and his wife, Shawnda Patterson, who is a former Baltimore public school teacher.

Their suit claims that Baltimore City Public Schools are failing their students and asks a judge to step in and order changes.

“The citizens of Baltimore City receive no benefit from a school system that so completely fails to perform its most important function, to educate Baltimore City schoolchildren,” wrote the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Scott Marder.

“Yet, Baltimore City taxpayers funded the salaries and benefits for the school system’s staff, while the students they were entrusted to educate were left to fall through the cracks.”

Though Marder said the lawsuit is not backed by any advocacy groups, multiple current and former Republican candidates for elected office were present at Thursday’s news conference outside Baltimore City Public Schools’ headquarters.

Patterson said he and his wife have one child who is in the school system.

Their complaint, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, asks a judge to enter declaratory judgment that would require the public school system to comply with state laws, accurately report enrollment figures and ensure that students are not promoted through grades without having completed the appropriate coursework.

The lawsuit uses an unusual mechanism: Maryland’s common law taxpayer standing doctrine, “which grants taxpayers the right to sue municipal corporations or public officials who engage in an illegal or ultra vires action which may reasonably result in a pecuniary loss to the taxpayers or an increase in taxes,” according to the complaint.

Marder said he used this approach, and filed the lawsuit in state instead of federal court, because courts have found there is no fundamental right to education under the U.S. Constitution.

“This is a taxpayer standing lawsuit that seeks to assert the rights of the taxpayers whose tax dollars are being wasted because of the poor education system,” he said.

The complaint cites numerous statistics that show Baltimore’s public school students perform poorly on standardized testing and often need remedial classes in reading and math if they attend college.

The suit also points to instances where the school system or individual schools overreported their enrollment and received excess funding, or promoted students who did not meet grade-level standards.

Marder said it is time for the courts to step in and ensure that educational reforms happen quickly.

“We’ve had different leadership here, both at Baltimore City Public Schools and city government, and nothing has changed,” he said. “At some point, there has to be some oversight and control to effectuate the changes.”

An email to the school system requesting comment was not returned Thursday.