The recent school year in Baltimore City ended with one startling statistic; nearly 58% of students were chronically absent from classroom instruction. That was the headline one news outlet reported.
A person featured in the story called the issue a crisis and expressed concern that, if not addressed, it could lead to a huge dropout rate in the coming years. Soon after this story, my wife told me that our oldest daughter was again late to school due to the frequent delays in the public transit bus system.
Like so many other students in Baltimore City, my child relies on public transportation to get back and forth to school. In fact, Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in the state where public school students rely primarily on the Maryland Transit Administration. This system continued to fail the community in several ways under the previous administration. Numerous complaints regarding our public transit system, mostly from adults, constantly flood my office. While I do not solely attribute the headline-making statistic to the shortcomings of the MTA, research suggests a correlation between transportation and education. Our youth deserve better.
I have voiced my concerns regarding this matter to those in our transportation agency. It is crucial that the current leaders of our transportation system, starting with the Maryland Transit Administration and the secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, cease to make excuses justifying the failure of a system that our students and communities heavily rely on. Instead, we must seek a creative vision and intentional implementation, to achieve full employment with transit operators, managerial positions, and, more importantly, ways to grow ridership and get people to believe in the system again.
I also agree with the leading advocacy organization, Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, when they say the recommendation to cut services to address the job vacancy issues isn’t the solution either. Such a plan would inevitably lead to increased wait times and necessitate service restoration as we progress toward the future.
Undoubtedly, our public schools are falling short of providing our young people with the education they deserve. This is why the Maryland General Assembly is making record investments through the Blueprint for Maryland’s future. While we are making record investments, it is important to recognize that the MTA also plays a role in shaping our youth’s educational experience.
As we plan for the next school year, I am asking that the MTA Administrator and the secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation recognize that our young people are our best resources and that education is one of the only vehicles with the power to change the trajectory of our neighborhoods. As you read this note, I hope you begin to understand the direct correlation between transportation, our young scholars’ education, and the climbing rates of chronic absenteeism in Baltimore.