The following letter was sent from Harford County Education Association (HCEA) President Ryan Burbey to all Harford County representatives in the Maryland General Assembly. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
As President of the Harford County Education Association, I must express our opposition to SB 595 & HB 486, The Public Charter School Expansion and Improvement Act of 2015. As evidenced in Governor Hogan’s proposed budget, state funding for education is increasingly limited. These funding limitations should guide policy decisions. Therefore the primary reason for our opposition is that SB 595 & HB 486 have the potential to divert state tax and local dollars away from current public schools and public programs without local approval. These bills also serve to override and countermand local authority over education policy.
Specifically, these bills would (1) allow the Maryland State Board of Education to override decisions of locally elected boards of education to authorize establishment public charters schools within local school systems (2) require local boards of education to provide equal funding to these schools based on enrollment (3) override local authority and the authority of local superintendents by requiring substantial restructuring of local school systems’ human resources and administrative departments (4) dilute and diminish funds available for capital improvements and construction within local school systems by allowing MSDE to serve as administrator of school construction programs for charter schools. As we struggle to maintain excellence in Harford County Public Schools, we cannot fathom support for legislation which would make balancing the school budget in future years even more difficult by necessitating the creation of additional administrative departments, and reducing both operational, as well as, capital funds available to our current schools. SB 595 & HB 486 have the potential to divert millions in future tax dollars from the general fund, education trust and school construction funds.
Over the past several years, state funding for public education in Harford County has been repeatedly cut. As state funds for education become increasingly scarce, it simply makes no sense to divert or dilute valuable state funds to our current pubic schools. The Harford County Board of Education faces substantial challenges in funding the current education program and 54 schools within Harford County. By allowing the Maryland State Board of Education to override decisions of locally elected boards of education to authorize establishment public charters, this bill creates the potential for massive budget deficits which will undoubtedly result in increased class sizes within “regular” public schools and/or programmatic cuts, which will reduce opportunities for students rather than increase them as the bill purports. Quite frankly, Harford County Public Schools, being ranked 21st out 24 Maryland school systems in total per pupil funding, can barely afford the current schools it operates; much less fund any additional charters authorized outside of local control by the Maryland State Board of Education. Even more austere conditions arise with regard to capital improvements school maintenance and school construction. Harford County Public Schools has multiple buildings, which require substantial improvements or reconstruction. Neither the local school system nor county government can fund increased maintenance and improvements forced by establishment of charter schools within Harford County.
Perhaps the most disturbing component of this legislation is that it derides local authority over education on many levels. Only recently, Harford County citizens voted to elect our Board of Education. This is the first time that the majority of our Board of Education has been duly elected by the voters of Harford County. Passage of these bills as written, would essentially strip our Board of Education and other local boards of education from their authority to govern education policy within the county. As previously mentioned, these bills force local boards of education to fund, build and staff charter schools over which they maintain little to no control. Even more disturbing is that local boards of education may, in fact, deny establishment of charter schools, only to then have their thoughtful decisions overridden by members of the Maryland State Board of Education, who hold little or no ties to our local community and have no accountability to local voters.
Maryland’s current charter school law is successful. It strikes the right balance between local control, school accountability, and innovative instruction. It allows for the establishment of charters but rightly requires local authorization by locally elected boards of education. Likewise, the current charter law empowers local boards of education to monitor both academic and fiscal accountability of charters. The current Maryland charter law prevents fraud and abuse, which have occurred in states with less strict local control. Lax charter laws in other states have led to financial mismanagement, low standards, poor performance, and unreliable learning environments.
All citizens of Harford County should be alarmed at the implications of SB 595 & HB 486, The Public Charter School Expansion and Improvement Act of 2015. If passed as written, this legislation has the potential to strip local control of our schools from the citizens of Harford County, as well as, quite literally bankrupt the Harford County Board of Education operational and capital budgets. I encourage all Harford County voters to email their elected representatives, expressing their opposition to this potentially disastrous legislation.
Ryan Burbey, HCEA President