Baltimore Charter Schools; Competition Improves Academics

Article excerpt

Byline: Kirk A. Johnson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Baltimore City's perennially problematic public-school system is once again crying poverty, this time over required funding of the new charter schools scheduled to open this fall in Baltimore. On May 6, the Maryland State Board of Education ruled that students in charter schools must have a per-pupil funding amount equal to what other local public-school children receive. Therefore, if a student leaves the traditional public schools and starts attending a charter school in Baltimore, nearly $11,000 will accompany him or her to the new public charter school.

Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Bonnie S. Copeland faces this headache after several months of budgetary woes. Besides the recurring budget deficit, a state audit last year found that perhaps $18 million in federal Title I funds were misspent by the district between 2001 and 2004.

How is BCPS reacting to this recent State Board ruling? By suing the state. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Baltimore would rather file a lawsuit than bend to the will of the legislature. Ms. Copeland told the Baltimore Sun that the ruling "will ultimately hurt all students in Baltimore City" and has pledged to do whatever she can to fight the ruling in court.

Such a claim is dubious. After all, Baltimore has the 12th highest spending per pupil among the largest 100 school districts in the nation, according to one report from the U.S. Department of Education. The city spends more per student than many larger districts like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston and Chicago - where charter schools operate alongside traditional public schools.

The lawsuit is unlikely to succeed. As the Center for Education Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based pro-charter school group, recently noted, "Time and time again, state supreme courts and lower courts have upheld the constitutionality of charter schools, striking down 11 such challenges since 1998." The lawsuit and quotes from school officials meant to frighten the general public only conceal the real issue: Children who attend public school must enroll in a mandated district. Barring expensive private schools, parents have little choice in the education their children receive. School districts like this arrangement: It assures that a steady stream of children populate their schools and requires little accountability.

Charter schools change that situation. …