From State Sen. J.B. Jennings:
Last Week, the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee heard Governor Hogan’s legislation, Senate Bill 595 that changes Maryland’s current charter school law so that it will make opening and operating a charter school easier. The Governor believes Maryland parents and students should have various viable educational options.
The Governor’s bill will:
–Require charter school operators to include in their application a plan to provide rigorous program instruction, including an equivalent method for satisfying any requirements from which the charter school operator intends to seek a waiver.
–Ensure that professional staff will be well qualified and credentialed, including assurances that the plan does not violate the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSEA).
–Authorize charter schools to be eligible for the capital improvement program by providing an operating funding formula based on per pupil allocation and a capital funding stream.
–Allow public charter schools in both public and privately owned buildings to be eligible to participate in the Public School Construction Program.
–Ensure that charter schools have access to public facilities commensurate with other public non-charter schools.
–Authorize charter school employees to be employees of the charter school rather than of the local school system.
–Exempt charter schools from the state teacher certification requirements.
–Authorize charter school employees to form their own exclusive bargaining unit.
–Allow charter school employees to be exempt from collective bargaining agreements of local school districts.
–Include charter school teachers in the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) and Teacher’s Pension System (TPS).
The charter school operators are required to pay the local share of the retirement cost for their employees in the TRS/TPS.
Currently, charter schools are privately operated, publicly funded and open to all students in the school’s jurisdiction. If too many students apply, then they are chosen through a lottery.
At the request of the Maryland State Department of Education, the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy did an in-depth study of charter schools and made recommendations for change. A major change would be the creation of an independent board to evaluate and approve applications to open a charter school. Under the current law, the power to evaluate and approve applications belongs to local school boards. Additionally, the law charges the local school system with paying for the operation of a charter school. In order for this to take place, the local system has to cut its funds for existing schools. Obviously, the method of paying for a charter school operation represents an immense obstacle to opening a charter school.
While the current law directs the local school system to fund the charter school’s operation, the system is not legally required to help fund the charter school’s facilities. The charter school must find, pay for and renovate, if necessary, its own building. Charter schools can hire only public school employees and must adhere to school district policies. Maryland is the only state that requires charter school teachers to be members of the union.
Surprising no one, teachers, education leaders and unions reacted immediately to the report’s recommendations with stinging criticism.
Laws governing public charter schools have been approved in 42 states and the District of Columbia. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has ranked each state’s law, using essential standards. Such standards include; providing equitable access to capital funding and facilities and exemption from collective bargaining agreements. Maryland’s public charter school law consistently ranks low and is considered by many to be the most restrictive law in the nation. In its January 2014 report, Maryland’s law received the lowest ranking.
Maryland’s current charter school law does not create an environment in which charter schools can flourish. Some changes need to be made. There are only 47 charter schools in the state serving nearly 18,000 students in Baltimore City and five counties. Neither Harford nor Baltimore County has a charter school. Of the 47 charter schools, Baltimore City has thirty-one; Prince George’s County, ten; Frederick County, three; and St. Mary’s County has one. According to a recent Abell Foundation report, Maryland’s restrictive law discourages charter operators from locating schools in this state.
To me, it makes no sense that charter schools in Maryland are forced to comply with a law that thwarts their existence and practically dares them to operate.
Please do not hesitate to contact me on this or any other issue of concern to you. Your input is valuable to me. It enables me to represent you effectively. I encourage and welcome your input.
Senator J.B. Jennings