Gov. Larry Hogan is proposing significant changes to state charter school laws in House Bill 486 ("Hogan's school reform has potential — and pitfalls," Feb. 27). While the political rhetoric associated with the charter school movement is complex, it should be noted that conservatives and liberals stand on both sides of the issue. Charter schools are supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
Advocates of charter schools want to encourage innovative teaching and creative approaches to reaching underserved students. That is a laudable goal and one that is certainly shared by teachers, school leaders and communities across the state. The only problem with that logic is that charter schools are not outperforming their counterparts. Research on the effectiveness of charter schools is, at best, mixed.
House Bill 486 includes language that illustrates the problematic thinking connected with those who favor charter schools. The proposal provides for a lottery system that gives preference to students living in poverty, in need of special education services, with limited English proficiency and those who are homeless. At first glance, that sounds like a great way to improve learning opportunities for our students who are most in need. However, the bill also provides charter schools with the freedom to circumvent state teacher certification requirements which ensures that the students who need the most qualified teachers won't get them.
Additionally, Maryland's bill provides public construction money to charter schools. This will create competition within school districts that, in some cases, could mean choosing charter school capital improvements over public school needs, a veritable "Sophie's Choice" for local school boards. Public construction money is just one of the complications that charter schools bring to local boards. Charter schools create the need for additional district personnel and time to oversee them and check for compliance. That takes time and money away from an already shallow pool of funds.
The irony of the current charter bill proposal in Maryland is that it ignores how underfunded schools already are. If Maryland's public schools were funded at anything near the appropriate level, then maybe exploring charter schools would be worthwhile. The backlog of capital improvement projects in Maryland's school districts and the per-pupil spending inequities across the state suggest that the time for charter schools is yet to come.
Christopher Wooleyhand, Severn