Private Funders Launch $1.5 Million Initiative to Reduce Baltimore's High Number of School Suspensions and Expulsions

BALTIMORE—Led by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, a group of private funders is launching a $1.5 million initiative to stem Baltimore's high number of school suspensions and expulsions and to offer more effective options than forcing children from school.

To kick off this initiative, OSI-Baltimore announced four new grants totaling $515,350 for programs beginning this month in public schools. These programs will expand counseling and mental health services, teach children to resolve conflicts peacefully and train teachers in "restorative justice practices," in which children learn how their misbehavior hurts others.

OSI-Baltimore and the group of private funders also are seeking new proposals for additional programs totaling close to $1 million that would begin in January. Some of those grants will aim to connect disengaged youth to the school system or educational services. The funders believe there is a pressing need for programs to reconnect youth who are out of school due to disciplinary actions or involvement in the juvenile justice system.

"Excessive use of suspension and expulsion results in higher rates of truancy, academic failure, school drop-outs, arrests, and juvenile detention," said Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore. "These new grants will offer teachers and principals more effective alternatives to the overused tool of suspension."

Many school districts across the nation have adopted harsh "zero-tolerance" policies, especially after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. After jumping to 11.2 percent in 1996-97, Baltimore's suspension rate consistently has exceeded 10 percent a year and has jumped as high as 16 percent over the past decade. In the 2004-05 school year, the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) reported 16,641 suspensions issued to 10,899 of its 88,401 students with more than a third being students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. A substantial number of suspensions were for minor offenses—13 percent were for poor attendance and 30 percent were for disrespect.

In 2004, OSI-Baltimore identified local school suspensions and expulsions as a serious issue. The Institute hosted a seven-part forum series on the topic, examined school data and devised a plan to fund alternative disciplinary programs as a way to help the school system build on its efforts to reduce suspensions and expulsions. The Institute also raised the money from other funders.

"Our goal is to enable Baltimore kids to graduate," Morris said. "We are pleased to have such a strong group of funders join forces with the school system. Together, we aim to disable the conveyor belt between failing schools and the juvenile justice system."

The four new grants announced by OSI-Baltimore are:

  • The University of Maryland Baltimore Foundation's School Mental Health Project: A grant of $187,350 will expand mental health services for at-risk students and enhance training and programming for all students to improve academic, behavioral and emotional outcomes at Calverton Middle School.
  • Sports4Kids: A grant of $150,000 to expand and evaluate its program providing organized games and sports at lunch, recess and after school. The program teaches children to resolve conflicts more peacefully. Last year, Sports4Kids worked in six Baltimore schools. This grant would add three schools.
  • Community Conferencing Center: A grant of $136,000 to provide violence prevention and conflict resolution services to school staff, students and families at Carter Woodson Elementary School. The program will teach students and staff new ways to resolve disputes, such as The Daily Rap, which gives students a regular way to resolve issues themselves. The center also will provide intensive conflict resolution for students frequently in trouble.
  • Baltimore Curriculum Project: A grant of $42,000 to implement "restorative practices" in two public charter schools, Collington Square and Hampstead Hill. Restorative practices help students understand how their behavior affects others and allows them to address their mistakes.

Besides OSI-Baltimore, the group of private local funders includes the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, the Ben & Zelda Cohen Charitable Foundation, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, United Way of Central Maryland, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and an anonymous individual.

OSI-Baltimore will host an information session for groups interested in applying for funding from 10 a.m. to noon on September 27 at 201 N. Charles St., Ste 1300.