- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Stymied at home but buoyed by George W. Bush's ascent to the White House, Maryland Republicans announced education proposals yesterday that call on the state's ruling Democrats to enact "real" reforms mirroring much of the president's agenda.

Republican Caucus members said that with 102 schools performing so badly that the state is monitoring them for possible takeover, too many children are being "left behind."

The Maryland GOP's legislative package includes measures that would let local school districts tap part of $190 million in federal funds available to help innovative charter schools pay startup costs.

Charter schools are publicly funded, but are allowed to operate outside the traditional public school framework and bureaucracy to meet particular needs of their students.

"Our plan delivers hope to these children by acknowledging that one size does not fit all," said Delegate James F. Ports Jr., a Republican who represents Baltimore city and county.

Although no Maryland law prohibits local school districts from approving charter schools, none would be eligible for the $150,000 to $180,000 in available federal funds unless the state enacts enabling legislation.

A bill offered by Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, Howard and Montgomery counties' Republican, would let colleges and universities, as well as local public school systems, create charter schools.

The call for charter schools has long been bipartisan particularly in the House, which approved a charter-school bill in 1999 and 2000. The idea gets a boost this year as two key Maryland Senate Democrats offer their own proposal.

The Democrats Clarence Blount and Paula Hollinger, who represent Baltimore city and county respectively are, respectively, chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, which killed charter-school bills last year.

Maryland has no charter-school law but it has one experimental school in Baltimore.

Opponents' most frequent objection is that they fear charter schools could undermine principles and resources of the public school system.

Supporters say they provide healthy competition.

Maryland Republican lawmakers are also proposing "opportunity scholarships" that would let direct costs for education, but not for books and supplies, "follow the child."

Under that proposal, parents of students enrolled in failing schools could transfer their children to another public, charter or private school, taking taxpayer funds directly used for the students' education with them.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has said he doesn't agree with the voucherlike idea promoted by the Republicans and Mr. Bush.

Republicans argue that even failing schools would benefit because they would have more resources for fewer pupils.

The Republicans also want to:

• Require local school systems in Maryland to establish character education programs underwritten by state grants.

• Increase special education funding to help local school systems meet a per pupil cost that is almost twice that for those without special needs.

• Make students eligible for HOPE scholarships established to attract students to fields where workers are most needed at higher family-income levels, raising the limit from $80,000 to $95,000.

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