Improving Maryland's charter-school law

Guest Blogger

Living near D.C.?a city with a 40 percent charter market share?charter schools are a constant topic of discussion, with reform-minded Marylanders envious of D.C.'s friendliness toward charters. Despite the adoption of Maryland's Charter Law in 2003, the state has seen gross disparities in the creation of charter schools across the state. While some areas, particularly Baltimore City, have proven to be very friendly to charter schools, most others have not. Of the forty-four charters across the state, thirty-four are located in Baltimore City; 74 percent of the counties in Maryland do not have a single charter school within their borders.

This disparity stems from the vagueness and openness of MD's charter law?designated as one of the weakest charter laws in the nation, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The loose guidelines provided by it, coupled with the authority given to local education authorities (LEA), has resulted in wide variation in the law's implementation across the state.

Charter schools are an important aspect of our education system as they provide families, particularly low-income families, with options for their children's public education

In order to make more uniform opportunities for charter schools across the state, we offer four policy recommendations, that we believe will help level the playing field for charter schools in Maryland:

  1. Freedom of Hiring - Public charter schools in Maryland are forced into local district collective-bargaining agreements. They should be able to make their own hiring decisions, rather than having an outside entity placing teachers into their schools. This is important because charter schools often have a very specific and often different view on the structure of education. Without the freedom to hire people who support their mission, they may be left with staff that do not believe in the mission, therefore hindering their ability to carry it out.
  2. Allocation of Funds - Charter schools should be given their yearly allotment of money at the beginning of the year. Often charter schools do not receive their full funding due to an abundance of bureaucratic paperwork and systems. By providing them with their funds at the start of the academic year, they would better be able to use funds for student achievement (this money of course would not go unchecked, the local school district would have the ability to perform oversight of their choosing on the use of these funds).
  3. Location Opportunities - Approved public charter schools should be allowed first pick of vacant public school buildings that the district plans to rent to a third party. Often charter schools must rent for-profit buildings, which then means they must pay property taxes, further cutting into their money for students. By providing them with the option to rent vacant school buildings, they would be exempt from paying property taxes, like other public schools, which would free up more money for the students.
  4. LEA Accountability - We recommend that each local education authority (LEA) be required to provide the state with a detailed report of all charter school applications, approvals, and denials with written explanations, to the state board of education. This would allow the state to perform oversight on the LEA's implementation of the law and bring to light any potential problems. The two recent denials of charter school applications in Montgomery County are prime examples of why such oversight is needed. The denials were both overturned by the State Board of Education, who cited a faulty decision-making process and possible anti-charter bias in the county.

?Holly Licht, Kunal Namballa, Lauren Sexauer, and Nikeysha Jackson.

The authors are Teach for America corps members in Prince George's County, MD and graduate students at George Mason University.

They'd like to offer many thanks to the Maryland Charter Network, which provided much framing of their initial thoughts and ideas.

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