The school system's 2012 legislative platform includes opposition to state aid to private schools, charging that vouchers and other public programs that aid non-public education allow the private schools to skim off the top academic performers and students from financially well-off families who are more likely to attend such schools in the first place.
The Harford County Board of Education voted last week to approve the superintendent's recommended platform, which takes positions on such staples as aid to private schools, charter schools, merit pay for teachers, unfunded state mandates and guaranteed local funding.
Besides opposition to state aid, the platform also states Harford's school board supports "the goal of a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and flexibility to establish alternative entry routes into teaching," including the ability to hire "career-changers, not formally prepared for teaching careers."
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Also supported is "establishment of monetary awards for teachers and other certificated employees who work in schools that make adequate yearly progress, or AYP," as defined by the state education department.
Not surprisingly, the Harford legislative platform opposes changes in current state laws which mandate that local governments provide a stable amount of funding to their school systems from year to year, a concept called maintenance of effort that has come under attack in an era of shrinking revenue and voter concern about higher property and local income taxes.
The board approved the 2012 legislative platform at its Nov. 21 meeting in Bel Air. To view the complete platform, click here.
The platform was previously presented at the board's Nov. 14 meeting by Kathy Carmello, facilitator of governmental relations for the schools system; however, board members had said they wanted more time to review the platform, which states what issues the school system supports and opposes that are likely to come before the Maryland General Assembly this winter.
After further consideration and with the knowledge the platform can still be changed during the legislative session, the school board unanimously adopted the platform.
Test fee payments
According to what was approved, the board supports "the development and implementation of programs to increase student participation in honors courses, advanced placement courses, the International Baccalaureate Program and other rigorous academic programs with specific emphasis on increasing minority student participation in these kinds of challenging programs."
To that end, the platform also supports "state and local sharing on state assumption of the significant examination fees for students, particularly for students who are disadvantaged."
The question of whether the local school system should pay the fees imposed by testing companies like The College Board charge for advanced placement and other standardized tests has been a controversial issue for the Harford school board in the past. The legislative program, however, states that such fees "present a disincentive to enrollment and participation in the programs and become a barrier to advanced study in high school."
The platform also states the Harford board supports "standards to reliably assess student performance prior to graduation from high school and to provide for teacher accountability to ensure that students are adequately educated to succeed in the workplace of today and tomorrow."
Among the many issues covered in the charter schools section of the report, "holding a charter school accountable to the local board of education…" is supported by the school system, which opposes "any legislation that creates waivers for charter schools that release them from compliance with state law and board policies."
Despite federal mandates that encourage charter schools, Harford school officials in the past have taken a hard line on them. The one charter school that was approved a few years ago eventually lost its certification after the school board became dissatisfied with its inability to find a permanent location and to meet other requirements the board had set.
In the area of student discipline, the legislative platform says the Harford board supports "an increased level of responsibility or duty" for parents or guardians "for the disruptive or detrimental behavior of their student," while also acknowledging "the continued responsibility of the school system to intervene with strategies that will promote educational success."
Conversely, the platform opposes "legislation that would impose a 'one size fits all' statewide approach to discipline, dictating under which circumstances schools must implement in-school versus out-of-school suspensions."
Local funding support
In discussing in great detail the Harford board's support for the concept of maintenance of effort, the platform states the board "believes that maintenance of effort is the commitment that local government makes to education" and thus it supports, "the retention of maintenance of effort provisions [in Maryland law] that mandates the county council to appropriate to HCPS for our annual operating budget an amount no less than the product of the enrollment for the current fiscal year and the per pupil allocation for the prior fiscal year, long enforced as the local funding floor, not simply the local share of the foundation program."