Charter Schools Get Support from Bipartisan Group

Article excerpt

ANNAPOLIS - A bipartisan coalition of Maryland delegates is backing legislation to allow the establishment of charter schools in the state's 24 school districts as a way to improve students' academic performance.

The bill would enable Maryland to get a chunk of $80 million the federal government has set aside for charter schools.

The main sponsor of the legislation, Delegate John R. Leopold, said charter schools give parents more educational choices for their children, increase parental involvement with students and improve their safety.

"The importance of it is that it empowers the community, it empowers students and it empowers teachers," the Anne Arundel County Republican told the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday.

The bill's opponents say they support charters schools but believe the bill would take power away from the state and local school boards and give them unfunded state mandates in return. They noted that state law already allows school boards to establish charter schools and thus the bill is "unnecessary."

Opponents include the Maryland State Board of Education, the Maryland State Teachers Association and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

"It's a public school, so the State Board of Education should control it," said state board Vice President Edward Andrews.

Sandra H. French, a Howard County Board of Education member, said the bill could require her school district to transport students all over her county at additional costs not covered by the state. She spoke in opposition to the bill at the committee hearing.

"We may have to provide a bus to go outside the county to pick up a child," she said.

Groups of parents and teachers often establish charter schools because they want to focus on one academic area such as art or science. …