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Maryland’s Charter Bill No Laughing Matter

In the final minutes of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2015 legislative session, the State Senate received back from the House of Delegates Senate Bill 595, a charter school bill completely unrecognizable from its original form.

“Has everyone recorded the vote? Anyone who wish to change their vote? Anyone who wishes to explain the vote? If not it’s the same old gang, folks,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said cheerfully, prompting laughter in the chamber.

“46-1. Thank you so much. Senate Bill 595 has received a constitutional majority, is declared passed,” Miller said.

The bill that the Maryland House and Senate passed represents a giant step backwards for an F-graded charter school law. In its original form, Governor Hogan’s charter school legislation, the Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015, while modest, contained many positive provisions to improve Maryland’s charter school environment before Senate members completely gutted it a few weeks ago.

SB 595 removes flexibility critical for charter educators and administrators, making charter schools’ operational decisions subject to agreement with the local districts. The “flexibility” touted by some just validates authority that already exists for districts and states to consider waivers from rules and regulations.

Not only that, the State Board’s check and balance authority to review charter applications is gone, removing the Governor’s ability to influence charter schools through State Board appointments.

Public charter schools in Maryland will continue to face funding inequities in comparison to their traditional public school counterparts.

Following passage, Senate members continued to pat themselves on the back for what they thought was a job well done. At this point, all their “hard work” on amending SB 595 must be met with a veto.


The School Choice Mandate

A quick glance at the @edreform Twitter feed in the last few weeks reveals a string of school choice programs that have successfully advanced through state legislatures, with little resistance expected from reform-minded governors.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law an expansion of the innovative Education Savings Account (ESA) program, granting eligibility to Native American students living on reservations. Now, Native American families, in addition to families with special needs students, foster care families and military families, can direct funds towards education services using ESAs.

Arkansas became the sixteenth state in the nation with a voucher program. In its first year, the Succeed Scholarship Program will provide up to 100 scholarships for students with special needs.

The Nevada Legislature passed a tax credit-scholarship program for income-eligible students, capped at $5 million for the first year with an automatic escalator clause for each subsequent year. The bill has received public support from Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Mississippi will join Arizona and Florida as the newest state with an ESA program for students with special needs, expected to receive Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature.

What do all of these recent school choice advances have in common?

All are in states where there is a pro-reform governor, according to a November 2014 analysis from Education50. With the exception of Mississippi, governors Arizona, Arkansas and Nevada all had gubernatorial elections in 2014, and each elected governor voiced their commitment to expanding school choice during campaigns.

The progress in these four states is commendable. However, more than half of the 36 gubernatorial elections in 2014 resulted in electing a pro-reform candidate to the governor’s mansion. It’s time for more reform-minded governors to lead with their mandate to increase choice and accountability in schools.


Maryland Students Deserve a Break

by Jeanne Allen

When governors win historic elections, one expects legislators to not only respect such a mandate but to try to work collaborate on changes that help those for whom adults should work the hardest, and that’s our kids. Such expectations for Maryland, however, seem sadly out of reach right now. This week, the Maryland Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee took up Governor Larry Hogan’s very modest proposal to amend the state’s charter school law, in order to increase quality educational opportunities for students who currently have no options other than their assigned school, which may not fit their needs. Yet rather than even debate the need for more and better choices, this allegedly thoughtful body ignored his proposals altogether and actually took action to make Maryland’s education law less accountable to parents and taxpayers! They did so by removing the advisory role of the State Board of Education and by taking any authority away from charter school principals to choose their own staff!

This was news to many legislators with whom advocates spoke this week. Indeed even the Governor’s own staff seems to believe that they have made progress. That’s because there has been little time given to actually understanding how charter school laws are supposed to work and a lot of time given to listening to mythology and misinformation about this very successful education reform that has helped 42 other states and The District of Columbia transform schooling for all types of children, particularly the poor and disadvantaged among us.

The reality is that a charter school law that permits school districts to dictate the terms under when and how a new public school is formed and control all of its hiring, curriculum decisions and funding is not a charter school law at all. It’s simply

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