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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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Maryland charter school law ranked seventh worst

“State charter school law ranked seventh worst”
by Blair Ames
Frederick News Post
February 29, 2012

The creation of great new public charter schools in Maryland requires just one simple thing, according to Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, an advocacy organization.

“It’s a law that is very clear and open to actually allowing people to step forward to get those schools,” Allen said Tuesday.

Maryland is far from having what CER officials consider an adequate charter school law, she said. According to the center’s 2011 annual ranking and score card of charter school laws released in January 2011, Maryland’s law ranks 35th of 41 laws on the books.

As reasons for the poor rating, the report cited limitations with district-only authorizing, union requirements, school board control of charters and lack of funding for charters.

Mississippi claimed the worst ranking, while Washington D.C. was deemed to have the best charter law.

Allen will visit Frederick tonight to discuss Maryland’s charter law, what she believes is lacking and what needs to be done to improve the law. The event at the C. Burr Artz Library will be hosted by FrederickEducationReform.com.

Tom Neumark, a founder of FrederickEducationReform.com, said his organization wanted to inform the public and elected officials about the rankings and how the law could be changed.

According to Allen, fixing the law won’t be easy.

The state law would need to be totally rewritten for Maryland to have a quality charter school law, she said.

She suggested starting with adding an independent authorizer to form charter schools rather than school boards because school boards don’t know what it’s like to operate a charter school.

“They’re not set up to review, approve and even consider what a new school looks like,” she said. “They’re not in the new schools business.”

Allen said the Maryland legislature has shown no “appetite”

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