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Maryland gets an ‘F’ on its charter school laws

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By Brad Matthews
Watchdog.org
March 26, 2015

The Center for Education Reform has released a new report card on the health of the nation’s charter school laws, and Maryland received an F for having the third-weakest law nationwide. Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed a bill offering modest improvements to the state’s charter school system, but provisions within the law have mobilized the teacher’s unions and their allies in the state Senate against the bill.

Maryland’s weaknesses in charter school implementation cannot be traced to one flaw; the state has a number of policies which inhibit the growth of charter schools. A school seeking to open would have to start with a local school board, which has sole control over approving charter schools.

The state has the limited ability to authorize a charter to restructure a failed school if the local school board has not acted within the span of 45 days, but that has never happened. Denied applications may be appealed to the state, but the state board has no clear legal authority and acts only as a mediator whose decisions are non-binding.

Schools also lack operational autonomy; control over the specifics of these schools, from operational contracts to teachers, are controlled locally by local school boards. Charter schools have to request waivers from state regulations, and they remain attached to their local school district in terms of policy.

Teachers are covered by local collective bargaining agreements–although charters can also negotiate with the unions themselves–and all charters have to abide by the state’s teacher retirement system.

Because control over charter schools is left up to the counties and local school boards, there are no state-level caps on the number of charters. Local school boards do have the power, however, to limit the number of charter schools allowed in their area.

Funding is another contentious area, insofar as it is done through the local school district. Although state law requires commensurate funding for public and charter schools, local school districts which aren’t favorable to the idea of charters have ways to use this power to create inequities between public school funding and charter school funding.

The report noted that several school districts have purposefully ignored the equitable funding statutes, leading to expensive lawsuits and uncertainty over staffing in some charter schools.