Thursday, April 5, 2012

MD needs more high-performing public school options

Below is an Opinion Editorial written by Curtis Valentine, founding Executive Director of MarylandCAN: The Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now.  It focuses on House Bill 1218, a bill that would create a task force to evaluate Maryland's public charter school law, which is ranked as the second worst public charter school law in the country.

Among other challenges with the law, the current charter law sets restrictions on how charter schools are authorized, which means fewer school options for parents.  Friday, the bill was voted out of the Maryland Senate Rules Committee, and Wednesday, the bill will be heard in the Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs (EHEA) Committee. If passed, HB 1218 would secure the creation of a task force to study the state of the public charter school law in Maryland. 

MD needs more high-performing public school options

As parents, my wife and I make the choices for our children’s future that they can’t make for themselves. Unfortunately, far too many Marylanders wake up every day with no choice when it comes to where they can send their child to school. The Maryland Senate is currently debating a bill that hopes to change that. House Bill 1218 aims to create a task force to take Maryland’s public charter school law from second worst in the country to a ranking we can be proud of. It will move us a step closer to providing more high quality public charter school options for the parents of 10,000 kids across our state sitting on charters school waiting lists instead of in charter school classrooms.

In Maryland, charter schools currently make up only 3.5 percent of all public schools and their performance is on par with traditional public schools. In fact, the 2012 MarylandCAN Report Cards show that 18 charter schools ranked in the top 20 schools in their respective elementary, middle, or high school cohort. 

Despite the success of a number of public charter schools in Maryland, our current charter law sets restrictions on how charter schools are authorized, which means fewer high-quality options for parents. Imagine Charter School in Upper Marlboro is but one example. In 2012, over 600 parents entered into the Imagine School lottery for only 60 spaces. Since public charter schools are subject to all the rules associated with non-charter schools, they are bound by law to not consider racial or academic background in admissions. Even though all children are welcome, the limits set by our existing charter law keep high performing public charter schools from expanding or functioning at full capacity. So once again, the journey continues for the parents of the over 500 children who will not win the lottery and will have to return to the very school they believed wasn’t serving their child.    

Leaving parents who live in struggling schools districts with little choice is something Marylanders shouldn’t stand for. The effort to expand quality choices while spurring the innovation and flexibility to close our tremendous achievement gap is larger than charter schools alone. It’s about giving all Maryland parents the right to choose what’s best for their own children. That’s why the Senate must pass HB 1218. It would set-up a task force to explore the value of more flexibility around charter school operations, management and creation. More flexibility would, in turn, give parents more high-performing school choices for their children, and provide charter schools with the space to innovate and successfully support students. 

Every night, my wife and I put our children to bed knowing that their tomorrows rest on the decisions we make today. We hope to create a world around them that nurtures the best in them and challenges them to exceed their own expectations. We can do that in Maryland. Maryland’s designation as “#1 School System in America” places a spotlight on us that should be capitalized on. If there is any state that can close the achievement gap, it’s here. If it passes, HB 1218 would explore the possibilities of legislation to give more of our children the opportunity to attend an achievement gap-busting school. Maryland can be a leader if we have the courage to unleash the tools that have proven to close achievement gaps, like high performing charter schools. In supporting HB 1218, we are empowering all Maryland’s parents to decide what’s best for their kids.
Curtis Valentine
Executive Director
MarylandCAN: The Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now

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