Charters Face Tough Rules: Advocates See Schools Too Restricted

Article excerpt

Maryland will regulate its first charter schools by imposing many of the same rules and restrictions that now govern public schools, a move advocates say will stifle the movement.

The state's Task Force on Charter Schools recommended to Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday that Baltimore and each county determine how many of the schools to permit, according to the draft bill that will be submitted to the General Assembly when it convenes next month.

The draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, stipulates public charter schools be subject to most local and state education regulations and requirements as of next July.

Those include testing programs and teachers unions, unless the charter schools get waivers from state and county school officials.

Only one charter school - the Stadium School in Baltimore - exists in Maryland.

Advocates of charter schools said they are disappointed the legislation, if passed, would create among the weakest charter schools in the country. It would put Maryland on a list of restrictive states that include Mississippi, Arkansas and Rhode Island, they said.

The Maryland General Assembly last year appointed the 12-member task force, which is headed by Montgomery County School Superintendent Paul L. Vance, to draft legislation that would permit the state to be eligible for more than $70 million in federal start-up money for charter schools.

"The Maryland legislation doesn't want charter schools, they want federal money," said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, which advocates charter schools and educational reform initiatives. "They are trying to concoct anything they can to pass muster and it simply won't do."

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, are intended to work independently of the public system, thus allowing them to be innovative.

Critics said the proposed Maryland law will stifle educational creativity.

"I don't think there will be a lot of charter school activity with this law because it's quite restrictive," said Joni Gardner, president of the Maryland Coalition for Educational Reform, a grass-roots organization that advocates alternatives to public education. "If it passes like this, the schools will basically be charter schools in name only."

Miss Gardner said she hopes the legislature will amend the proposal to make it less restrictive.

Mr. Vance was away on a school board retreat yesterday and was not available to comment on the draft.

Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, is not expected to comment on the proposal until near the end of January, when he comes out with a legislative agenda in his State of the State address, said spokesman Don Vandrey.

State legislators may have to change the law or risk suffering the same fate as Virginia, which in October was denied federal funds by the U.S. Department of Education. Federal education officials said the charter school law that took effect in Virginia on July 1 is too restrictive.

Among the problems with the Virginia law, officials said, was that it lacked more than one route for charter school applicants to appeal rejections. …