As in many big cities, the schools in Baltimore are generously funded by taxpayer money, yet utterly failing in terms of achievement. Now an unusual coalition of taxpayers and a prominent civil rights attorney is taking on the problem through a novel lawsuit that they hope has national implications.
Ben Crump has gained recognition as a civil rights attorney, representing families of blacks killed in controversial encounters, including George Floyd, who died after resisting arrest in 2020. The police officer who held him down was convicted of murder.
And 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, killed in 2012. A jury found the Hispanic man who shot him did so in self-defense.
Now, Crump is in an unusual alliance with conservative activists in Baltimore who are attacking the city’s broken education system.
They’re suing Baltimore’s mayor and school board, saying, "Despite receiving some of the highest funding per pupil in the nation for many years, the Baltimore City Public Schools has expended billions of dollars in taxpayer money, while failing to properly educate Baltimore City’s children.”
Sharyl Attkisson: When you look at the situation of Baltimore, for people who aren't familiar with it, what are some of the facts or notes that stood out to you?
Ben Crump: Well, the fact that so many parents were coming to me telling their story about how their children were not able to read. They were not able to do basic math, and that they wanted better for their children. And obviously, we all have heard of the grade-changing scandal, which is just deplorable.
Baltimore’s grade-changing scandal was exposed in an investigation by Sinclair’s Project Baltimore at Fox 45 News. After that, an Inspector General investigated and found that Baltimore teachers changed thousands of failing grades to passing between 2016 and 2020.
Ben Crump: You know, it's unbelievable that the teachers say they were told to change grades for bureaucratic reasons
Sharyl Attkisson: To give better grades?
Ben Crump: To give better grades for bureaucratic reasons. The fact that it had been reported that students who had not been to classes for years were still being counted on the role and given passing grades. And that is what became the scandal because, you know, the state leadership found that there were over 12,000 such grade changes throughout Baltimore. And there's no justifiable answer for that. I don't care what technical justification you come up with. It's not right. And we have to stand for what's right.
Sharyl Attkisson: What is the racial makeup of those who run the schools here and the student population, and how does that factor into the whole debate?
Ben Crump: You know, I think it's ran by mostly minorities, and I think mostly minorities are being impacted. But I think whether you have black people or white people running the system, the system is still producing the same outcomes. And so what we are saying is, “We can do better. Let's come to the table.” That's what we're saying with this lawsuit. Let's come to the table. If we truly are motivated by trying to give our children a better education, then you shouldn't look at this lawsuit as something nefarious. It should be looked at as something to hopefully get us all to the table to say, “Let's put politics aside and put our children first.”
Sharyl Attkisson: What are some of the reflections you have on the idea that money alone certainly isn't making achievement happen?
Ben Crump: We gotta try all kinds of things, because what we have right now isn't working. And so let's don't keep going down the wrong road. If we see it's not working, let's figure out how it can work here in Baltimore. And then that could be a model for the cities all across America. Baltimore, if we can get it right here, I do think we can get it right all over America. And we can change America for the better as it relates to education.
Sharyl (on-camera): The lawsuit against the city and schools recently survived an attempt to dismiss it. It's asking the courts to halt what it calls a waste of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds through the illegal and over-reaching actions of the city and school system.