Charter school supporters rally for funding

"We need this choice," says parent of city charter school students at a rally for funding Saturday.

After Ebony Smith became pregnant with her third daughter, she and her husband grew concerned about how they would continue to pay for private school.

Relief came when she enrolled her daughters in a city charter school.

At the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School on Guilford Avenue, Smith said, her oldest daughter has gained confidence, and her middle daughter has taken on more responsibility. And her family no longer has to pay private school tuition.

"I've never seen my children so excited to go to school," the Irvington woman said. "We need this choice."

Smith joined hundreds of parents, teachers and students who gathered Saturday near Lake Montebello to show their support for charter schools. The Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools organized the rally after Baltimore school officials proposed a budget formula that would have reduced funding at 26 of the district's 34 charter schools.

School officials abandoned the formula this week after the City Council voted unanimously to call on the school system to withdraw it. But next year's funding remains unclear.

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has agreed to help seek an agreement between the school system and the charters on funding.

If that funding uncertainty isn't settled, Smith said, her family would consider relocating to Texas, where they have family, where the cost of living is lower and good public education doesn't cost extra.

Many in the crowd, Smith included, wore bright orange shirts that read "#SAVE THE CHARTERS BMORE." Supporters chanted "Hear our voices. Hear our choices. Hear our voices. Save our Choices."

Several parents and students spoke from a raised podium about how much their schools meant to them.

"People care passionately about their schools," said Bobbi Macdonald, the executive director of the City Neighbors Charter School.

She said charter schools want the school system to be more transparent about funding. She said greater transparency would benefit all Baltimore students, not just those enrolled in charter schools.

Baltimore's 34 charter schools serve 13,700 students. They are funded through a formula that gives them cash in lieu of services from the system's central office. Non-charter schools are funded similarly, but funding is reduced after central office costs are deducted. Those schools also receive other funding for students with special needs or for low-performing students.

Charter school supporters have said the proposed formula from the school system would have kept more money in the central office, less for the classroom.

Councilman Bill Henry, vice chairman of the City Council's education committee, asked supporters Saturday to lobby state lawmakers during the next legislative session for more funding for all city schools.

Henry, who introduced the legislation that called on school officials to withdraw the funding formula, pointed to a sign in the crowd that read. "We need a bigger pie." He said he liked that massage because funding should not pit charter and traditional schools against each other.

He expressed frustration at the decision of Gov. Larry Hogan to shift $68 million that lawmakers had set aside for schools to shore up the state's pension system instead.

Hogan said putting extra money into schools instead of what he said is an unfunded pension system would be irresponsible.

As a result of the decision, Baltimore city schools lost $11.6 million.

"We've got a legislative session coming up," Henry told the crowd Saturday. "Make everybody there know how we feel."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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