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After solid compromises, charter school bill passes in Maryland

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on May 07, 2003:

Senator Dyson Maryland is no longer without a public charter school provision after six years of work on this, some say controversial, I say breakthrough and important legislation. Now, Maryland is the 40th state to have adopted a public charter school law along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Senate Bill 75 -- The Public Charter School Act of 2003 -- which I sponsored, only awaits Governor Ehrlich’s signature before it becomes law. I expect the governor to sign this bill considering it was one of his primary objectives coming into this year’s General Assembly Session.

This bi-partisan cooperation between myself and my Senate colleagues, the governor and the House of Delegates has produced a successful bill that will establish the Maryland Public Charter School Program.

In addition to the broad-based political support the bill received, it also enjoys the endorsement of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, the Maryland State Teacher’s Association and other education advocacy groups in the state. In the past, MABE and the MSTA had opposed charter school legislation. Their endorsement this year has shown that through compromise, a bill that would benefit local school boards, the teacher’s union, but most importantly our students, was vital for passage.

I originally “inherited” this legislative effort from my friend and former colleague in the Senate, Christopher McCabe, now serving in the governor’s cabinet as Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Human Resources.

When Senator McCabe left to join the Bush administration in 2001, he asked me to continue the work on public charter school legislation. I told him that I would because I shared his belief that charter schools offer the potential for innovation and creativity. My bill also makes it very clear that charter schools will indeed be public. They must be nonsectarian and open to all students on a space-available basis. Private, parochial or home schools are not eligible to become public charter schools.

Senate Bill 75, which passed both houses of the General Assembly on the last day will give primary chartering authority to local boards of education and its employees will be subject to the same collective bargaining rules an regulations passed into law by the General Assembly last year. Professional staff members of charter schools must hold the appropriate Maryland certification.

Some have called this bill “weak” or “watered down.” It is neither. The administration bill, while admirable, was unacceptable to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on which I sit, as well as the House Ways and Means Committee and various public education advocacy organizations such as MABE and the MSTA because it did not adequately address who received the ultimate chartering authority.

Senate Bill 75 gives the primary chartering authority to local school boards which is vital since 13 of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City are elected with others moving that way. Therefore, the public has a direct input into how charter schools are run which they should.

This bill is also strong because it makes charter schools eligible for millions of dollars in federal funding.

There is no way to know if charter schools will in fact make our public school system better. However, there is evidence that shows that the majority of them have been a success. It provides an alternative to the way our public schools are doing business in Maryland. Innovation and creativity in all walks of life should never be denied. On April 7, when SB 75 passed the Maryland General Assembly, we obliterated that obstacle.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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