ANNAPOLIS – A Senate committee dealt another blow Tuesday night to Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, turning down the charter school legislation he’s pushed hard this session.
The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee opted instead for a compromise bill from Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, with 10 amendments.
Dyson’s bill regulating the public, secular schools passed 9-2, while committee members turned down Ehrlich’s proposal 7-4.
“This is a watered-down version,” said Sen. Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, a sponsor of Ehrlich’s bill. “I would love to have had that one move forward.”
Maryland is one of just 11 states without a charter school law, which proponents say puts federal funding out of reach and leaves students in underperforming schools without as many options.
Ehrlich’s bill was described as one of the strongest charter school proposals to reach the Maryland General Assembly. It would have allowed the Maryland State Board of Education and colleges and universities to serve as chartering authorities and placed no limits on the number of schools statewide.
Dyson’s version, in contrast, leaves local boards of education as the main chartering groups. One of the drafted amendments allows the state board to create a “model policy” for local boards to emulate, but Dyson’s version says state officials can only approve charter schools upon appeal.
Ehrlich, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and state Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick introduced the charter school legislation before a sea of news cameras last month, claiming the schools offer more “flexibility” and “opportunity” for public school students.
“The administration was looking for a strong version of the charter school bill to emerge from the Senate,” said Ehrlich’s spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver. “There’s no argument, it’s a weaker bill . . . the process isn’t over.”
Ehrlich’s agenda has suffered a number of setbacks in recent days, with the Senate shooting down his nominee for Environment Secretary, not long after lawmakers blasted his latest proposal to install slot machines at Maryland racetracks.
The House has yet to weigh in on charter schools. The House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on the issue last week but has not scheduled a vote.
“We claim victory of any charter school bill that passes,” added Regan Hopper, spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.
Grasmick said she was disappointed the bill that passed committee wouldn’t grant more authority to the state school board, but she said she supports “the concept” of charter schools.
Dyson remains hopeful his version will pass the Senate floor. He said the hang-up will likely come if the House passes a different version of charter school legislation and the issue is referred to a conference committee. Last session, House Bill 131 passed both chambers but died the same way.
“We’re this close, but at the same time, we could be miles away,” Dyson said. “I think I’d be more pleased if I could find out what will happen on the other side.”