Hogan pitches charter school expansion, again

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan again pitched charter school expansion in Maryland.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday announced plans to encourage more charter schools by sidestepping local districts' authority to authorize and fund them.

It is the second time in three years Hogan has sought to establish more charter schools in a state where their operators say laws make it tough to open and thrive.

Hogan said the initiative would "increase the choices available to Maryland families" and charged that the current system of approving charters stifles innovation.

"Maryland's current public charter school law is restrictive, vague, and has consistently rendered the state unable to compete for millions of dollars in federal charter school grants," Hogan said in a statement.

He did not reveal details of his proposed legislation. The General Assembly watered down his previous proposal in 2015.

The broad strokes of Hogan's plan prompted rebuke from the Maryland teachers' union. Sean Johnson, the union's spokesman, said the proposal would "undermine the strong protections against fraud, waste, and abuse" in the current charter school law.

Current law gives local school districts broad authority over charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. It also requires educators to be covered by union contracts, a provision that charter operators say hinders the ability to be nimble in hiring and firing staff.

Hogan's proposal this year would create an alternative way to approve charter schools, putting them under direct control of an independent board that would also directly funnel state money to the schools.

The administration declined to provide specific information about how the system would work, but said the board could exempt schools from union membership, class size limits, text book rules and curriculum choices.

Maryland authorized charters in 2003, but only a handful of school districts have approved them. The vast majority — 35 out of 51 — have opened in Baltimore city. Most jurisdictions have none.

Hogan's prior effort to expand charters were dismantled by Democrat-dominated legislative committees. One chairwoman said at the time that lawmakers did not want charters to compete with traditional schools for students and resources.

Advocates for charters say the schools have more flexibility to help students.

Nicole Harris-Crest, executive director of the Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools, said Hogan's plan appears to address the three biggest weaknesses in the state's charter program: a lack of dedicated funding, allowing local school systems to unilaterally reject charter schools and a lack of autonomy on hiring and firing staff.

"These are the things that charter schools need in order to thrive and do the work they've set out to do," she said. "We're pleased."

The charter proposal is part of the most aggressive policy agenda of Hogan's tenure. He has also suggested a tax credit for manufacturing companies, a scaled-back version of a paid sick leave law championed by Democrats, a tax break for people with student debt and an environmental initiative to curb Chesapeake Bay pollution.

ecox@baltsun.com

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