Baltimore Urban Debate League

The Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL) uses the art of debate to change lives. BUDL brings learning to life by making it relevant, real and fun. In competitive debate and in the debate classroom students do more than just memorize and spit back facts, they own and direct their learning, they approach a topic from where they are and by doing so they find their voice, their purpose and their power. Students in BUDL develop a thirst for knowledge and become inspired to seek and utilize new information.

Organization’s Mission

The Baltimore Urban Debate League is dedicated to improving educational and life outcomes for disadvantaged students in Baltimore’s under resourced public schools. By creating learning opportunities through competitive debate and professional development with teachers to bring the benefits of debate inside the city’s classrooms, we support and inform the educational reform and revitalization efforts now underway in our district. Through the motivation and thrill of competitive debate we improve self esteem, increase academic achievement, improve graduation rates and access to higher education. For young people of promise, for their schools and their communities, we provide a new vision, hope and opportunity.


BUDL was founded in 1999 as part of a national initiative driven by the Open Society Institute to tranform public education by bring debate back to the urban classroom.

From the League’s modest beginnings in 1999 when 90 pioneering students and 16 teachers in 8 of the City’s most challenged neighborhood high schools began to learn the skills and techniques of competitive policy debate, the League has expanded to involve more than 1,000 middle and high school students and more than 75 BCPSS teachers from 35 high schools and 25 middle schools each year in a rigorous program of after-school debate training, independent research activities, debate team practice sessions, and monthly competitive policy debate tournaments.

Today the Baltimore Urban Debate League is America’s largest and most successful urban debate league, a flagship within an urban debate movement which now includes over 400 public schools from urban debate leagues in 16 of the nation’s largest cities.

BUDL Fact Sheet

BUDL Students Participate in the 2014 Gubernatorial Forum on Education

BUDL’s 10 Year Anniversary Video

Gov. O’Malley and Dr. Alonso, CEO of BCPSS, talk about the importance of
the Baltimore Urban Debate League.

BUDL featured on 60 Minutes

Watch the full 60 Minutes segment featuring BUDL.

When Leslie Stahl heard about the Urban Debate Movement she knew it was a story that needed to be told. When she discovered the students achieving against all odds in Baltimore City’s high schools, learned the story of a powerful debate program at Walbrook High School and the phenomenal teacher/coach who led his team to success she decided BUDL’s was the story she wanted to tell. While the League has grown significantly since the airing of this segment the story remains the same and  examples of student success, life changing experience and the teacher student bond that occurs through debate play out in countless classrooms and school buildings across this city each year.

BUDL at TEDxBaltimore 2011

TEDxBaltimore 2011, SANTELISES, The Future We Make

Baltimore City Schools former Chief Academic Officer, Sonja Santelises, highlights BUDL as one of the best examples of a program with high expectations for students, creating rigor in our schools and classrooms.