December 17, 2017

Priority Issue: Charter School Act of 2015

The Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015 Becomes Law

MABE supports public charter schools as public schools of choice operating under Maryland's Charter School Act enacted in 2003. This longstanding law has ensured that local boards of education are responsible for reviewing and approving applications to operate a charter school in their local school system, and that as public schools, charters are held to the same high standards of student performance and financial accountability. Since 2003, only minor amendments to the Charter School Act were enacted until the passage of the Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015 (Senate Bill 595, Chapter 311, 2015 Laws of Maryland). This legislation includes major revisions to local and state board chartering authority, provides greater flexibility for successful charter schools, and calls for a study to determine appropriate levels of funding. 

MABE opposed the Charter School Expansion and Improvement Act of 2015 because, as introduced, it would have weakened or eliminated standards for public charter schools in Maryland. On February 4, 2015 the Governor delivered his State of the State address and proposed charter school reform legislation, which was introduced as House Bill 486 and Senate Bill 595. This legislation would have:

  • Removed the Maryland teacher certification requirements for charter school teachers and professional staff;

  • Adopted a new, increased, per pupil funding formula that would provide 98% of all federal, state and local funds, minus only the Title I allocation;

  • Allowed the State Board to grant a charter school a comprehensive waiver from all provisions of law and regulations applying to other public schools;

  • Mad the State Board of Education the chartering authorizer and employer for charter schools approved on appeal or for converted public schools;

  • Made MSDE the school construction program administrator for all charter schools;

  • Made charter schools eligible to participate in the state’s capital improvement program; and

  • Allowed charter schools to grant preferences to students with special needs, and students within a specific school attendance area. 

MABE opposed this legislation (MABE testimony), based on our adopted Resolution and Legislative Position, which clearly state our support for the establishment of high quality public charter schools.

Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015 Highlights

  • The bill repeals the State Board’s role as a primary or secondary public chartering authority. The sole public chartering authority is a county board of education. 

  • A public charter school may give greater weight to a student in a lottery based on a geographic attendance area; and based on whether the student is (1) eligible for free and reduced-price meals; (2) a student with disabilities; (3) a student with limited English proficiency; (4) homeless, as defined under federal law; or (5) a sibling of a currently enrolled student in the public charter school for which the sibling is applying.

  • Expanded operating flexibility is afforded to a public charter school that has been in existence for at least five years and demonstrates to the county board a history of sound fiscal management and student achievement that exceeds the average in the local jurisdiction on statewide assessments and other measures developed by the State board. The State board must develop standards and criteria by which a public charter school must be assessed by the county board. 

  • If an eligible public charter school and the county board reach mutual agreement regarding an alternative means by which the public charter school will meet the intent of the policies of the local school system, an eligible public charter school is exempt from: 
        o    textbook, instructional programs, curriculum, professional development, and scheduling requirements; 
        o    a requirement to establish a school community council; 
        o    except for a Title I school, a requirement to establish a school improvement plan; 
        o    except for a school with a school activity fund, a requirement to provide school activity fund disclosure statements; and 
        o    except for prekindergarten classes, class size or staffing ratios. 

  • Staffing flexibility is provided for certain charter schools in existence for five years. A principal may not be assigned to an eligible public charter school without the written consent of that school. Also, a staff member who wants to work in an eligible school must be assigned or transferred to that school if the staff member expresses this in writing and the public charter school expresses in writing that it wants the staff member to work there, if there is an existing vacancy. However, nothing in this program may take precedence over an agreement of a local bargaining unit in a local school system.

  • A public school funding and expenditures study is required to be completed by October 1, 2016. MSDE, in consultation with DLS, must contract for a study of the amount of funding provided to public charter schools and other public schools by local school systems. The purpose of the study is to calculate the average operating expenditures by each local school system for students enrolled in a public school that is not a public charter school or stand-alone special education school, to be aggregated at the State level to serve as the baseline for determining commensurate funding for all public schools.

Background

MABE supported passage of the 2003 Charter Schools Act because it clearly sets the same high standards for instruction and financial management as other public schools. The proposed legislation would set charter schools above other public schools, in terms of per pupil funding and facility funding, and at the same time weaken or eliminate quality assurances for teachers and principals. In addition, the proposed legislation would allow the State Board of Education to directly oversee the operation of charter schools it authorizes.

Local boards of education take very seriously the responsibility of governing the public schools within their respective local jurisdiction. Charter schools authorized by the State Board would create a two-tiered system by removing any local board and school system role in overseeing the quality of instruction, delivery of special education and other services, and monitoring the financial practices of charter schools.

These weaknesses, not strengths, are precisely what have plagued charter schools in other states. Maryland’s nearly 50 public charter schools are high performing both in terms of academics and finances and are educating 18,000 students each day.

Recent Charter School Studies and Reports

In 2013, the General Assembly enacted a bill to require a study of Maryland's 2003 Charter School Act, and MSDE awarded the contract to conduct the study to the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center on Public Policy. The Schaefer Center report was published in November 2014. The report elicited a critical analysis from the Department of Legislative Services. In addition, the Abell Foundation issued a report in January 2015 based on an inquiry of what changes in Maryland's charter school law would potentially attract high performing charter management organizations currently operating in other states.