Freezing Baltimore students - Who's responsible?

Images of shivering Baltimore elementary school children flooded the internet last week and tugged at the hearts of people across America. By Tuesday morning, a crowd-sourced campaign raised $78,000 for warm clothes and space heaters for children attending urban schools in Baltimore. Though thoughtful, this fundraiser is a bandaid barely covering the festering wound that is the school districts of Baltimore, and this heating fiasco reveals the truth about school systems in the area.

Who sends their kids to schools without heat? Was it is really a surprise that these schools were falling apart? The truth is people sending their children to schools in such disarray are people who have no choice. Parents would never choose to send kids to a school without heat in the middle of a snowstorm.


Think about this problem from another way. Imagine living in a town with only two restaurants during a snowstorm. The groceries stores are out of essentials, and citizens must choose a restaurant. One is an outdoor restaurant, lovely in the summer, but less than perfect for a snowstorm. The other restaurant has four walls and heat. Where would you eat?

The answer may seem simple, but what if you couldn’t choose to eat inside? What if you HAD to eat at the outdoor restaurant? Food is an essential, so without choices citizens would bundle up and eat outside if it came to that. Thankfully, because we have restaurant choices, it is typical to see places with lots of outdoor seating trying to come up with alternative options for seating once it’s cold outside.

The restaurant analogy is helpful because, in the case of Baltimore schools, families sending their children to school without heat literally have no choice. They are required to send their children to these schools. Parents can be fined, imprisoned, or have their child taken by social services if they don’t send their children to school.


Families who have the means to choose better schools DO! They move to new school districts or pay for private education. Just look at the population change in Baltimore, and you will see the drastic exodus to other school districts when children hit school age. Census data shows there are 14% fewer five-to-nine year olds in the Baltimore City school district than zero-to-four year olds. The children left behind are trapped in dysfunctional neighborhoods with dysfunctional schools - which they are required to attend, by law.

Baltimore City schools suffer no penalty when the schools fail to provide heat. Instead, putting children in deplorable conditions actually generated $78,000 in donations.  So, other than collecting money for space heaters, how can this community improve their situation? The answer is to create opportunities and policies that give parents in Baltimore choices about where their children go to school. Solutions like CPR scholarships. When parents have choices, Baltimore will choose to heat its schools, and middle-class families will be able to stay in the city. (Learn more about targeted CPR Scholarships here!)

(Image via Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)