Baltimore City schools, charters clash over Blueprint money; special education and pre-K funding caught in between

Seven charter school operators are petitioning the Maryland State Board of Education to rewrite Baltimore City school system’s funding formula for distributing money tied to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

Charter representatives and city school administrators have negotiated for months but say they were unable to resolve the dispute, which centers on a 25% administrative “fee” that the system included in its charter school formula for distributing state funds tied to the landmark Blueprint reform plan. The Blueprint is expected to infuse an additional $3.8 billion in Maryland schools over the next decade.


Charter funding formula disputes have simmered for years in Baltimore City, which is home to more than 30 of Maryland’s 47 charter schools.

Attorney Christopher S. Gunderson of Venable LLP filed the petition Monday on behalf of Afya Baltimore, Baltimore Montessori, City Neighbors Charter, City Neighbors Hamilton, City Neighbors High School, KIPP Baltimore, Patterson Park Public Charter, New Song Community Learning Center and Living Classrooms Foundation.


Gunderson declined to comment Tuesday on the pending matter.

In the petition, the operators contend state law does not authorize Baltimore City school system to impose a mandatory 25% fee on public charter schools and asks the state board of education to reduce that figure to 2%.

The complaint points out that te Maryland State Supreme Court addressed a similar issue in 2017 when it said a local school board should not be allowed to lower a charter’s per-pupil allocation because it provided services that the charter did not need or desire. It also cites a 2018 Maryland board of education decision to invalidate a $125-per-pupil fee that the Baltimore City school system imposed on charter schools for school police services.

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The charters say the school system legally may collect a 2% fee to pay for things like data collection and other reporting functions — but claim other services may be provided in lieu of cash only if both parties agree.

Meanwhile, Baltimore City administrators took the unusual step of sending a letter Tuesday to alert families of the “pending threat” posed by the charter operators, stating their proposed formula would “diminish the Blueprint Act’s investments by taking more than their fair share.”

Alison Perkins-Cohen, chief of staff for Baltimore City Schools, said the 25% administrative fee collected from the charters’ Blueprint share offsets a $200 million funding gap for special education services and pre-kindergarten — costs she says that traditional and charter schools have a moral and legal obligation to share. System leaders noted they were able to reach a consensus on the funding formula with the 22 other charter and contract school operators in the city.

“Everyone has to pay,” Perkins-Cohen said. “There are students who need significant support. If these [charter] schools are successful, the cost would solely fall on traditional schools.”

In the letter sent to families, administrators predicted the operators’ adjusted formula would send an extra $1.8 million to a charter school serving 500 students compared to a traditional school of the same size, enough to add 18 teaching positions. And a charter high school serving 1,300 students would receive an extra $4.7 million compared to a traditional high school, which equates to 47 teaching positions.


The dispute comes at a time when the state is still working out the details of how to roll out the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future plan. Local school systems’ implementation plans are due March 15 to the seven-person Blueprint oversight authority, called the Accountability and Implementation Board.

Perkins-Cohen said the city school system has not reached out to the oversight board or its staff concerning the charter school funding dispute but might do so in the coming months.