WASHINGTON – Maryland has no chance of sharing in the $175 million that President Clinton has proposed spending for charter schools because the state does not have legislation regulating such schools, state officials said.
Maryland is one of only 14 states without charter school legislation, which allows parents, educators or others to use public funds for the development of specialized schools with more autonomy than traditional public schools.
Two state legislators hope to turn the state’s charter school position around and let Maryland share in some of the funding proposed by Clinton. But state educators insist there is no need for charter school legislation and little demand for the schools here.
“(Charter schools) are very time-intensive and it does require a great involvement in the community,” said Assistant State Superintendent Ron Peiffer. “That kind of momentum has not developed in Maryland. Most parents are feeling pretty good about their neighborhood schools.”
Even though there are no laws against charter schools in Maryland, none actually exist in the state. Currently, there is only a set of rough state guidelines advising local school boards in procedures for reviewing charter school applications.
Montgomery County is the only district that has taken the guidelines a step further and created a definite application process. It is currently reviewing a charter school application.
“We’re not opposing charter schools,” Peiffer said. “State laws do not prohibit the establishment of charter schools.”
But state Sen. Christopher McCabe, R-Howard, and Delegate John Leopold, R- Anne Arundel, said it is not enough that the state allows charter schools — it should encourage them.
The two introduced school choice legislation Friday in hopes that Maryland will join the 36 other states that are eligible for federal funding.
“We pride ourselves in Maryland in many areas, but when it comes to education we have not taken that lead,” said McCabe, who has been working on the charter school issue for two years. “We have not pursued innovation and reform.”
Under his proposal, local school boards would have to give priority for charter schools to low-performing areas and charter school applicants who were turned down by the local board could appeal to the state school board.
Charter school advocates said state school officials are underestimating the amount of interest in the state.
“There are a lot of people that are not really satisfied with the local system yet they don’t have the means to go to private education,” said Joni Gardner, a spokeswoman for the D.C.-based Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.
Gardner is also president of the Maryland Coalition for Education Reform, which she created to unify charter school supporters throughout the state. She has been working with McCabe and Leopold to draft the legislation.
Separate charter school bills were passed by the Senate and House of Delegates last year, but they died when the two chambers could not iron out differences between the proposals.
This year, the legislators and advocates believe the new unified approach will speed the process and increase the chances of approval. But state school officials remain skeptical.
“I really don’t see any major changes in Maryland in the issue of charter schools,” Peiffer said.
-30- CNS 02-04-00