- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

ARNOLD, Md. — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday announced the state has received a $3.8 million federal grant to further its commitment to building more charter schools.

“When I signed my charter school initiative into law last May, I fulfilled a pledge to give parents more choices within the public school system,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. “This money provides a real, tangible means for parents and children to access new educational opportunities through charter schools in Maryland.”

The money, the first installment of more than $13 million over the next three years, was presented to Mr. Ehrlich by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok.

“The charter school movement is indeed a movement that is transforming” American education, Mr. Hickok told about 200 students, parents, teachers and supporters of charter schools who gathered at Anne Arundel Community College. “It takes us back to where we should be in education.”

The $13 million could help open roughly 20 charter schools in Maryland. Right now, Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School in Frederick is the state’s only charter school.

Mr. Ehrlich fought until the final day of his first legislative session to get the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to pass the Public Charter School Act of 2003, which allows the Maryland State Board of Education to grant a school an operating license and qualifies the state to apply for federal money.

Mr. Ehrlich had to compromise with lawmakers to make Maryland the 40th state with laws for charter schools — publicly funded, grass-roots schools that focus on nontraditional learning techniques.

Teachers are required to join a union and only local school boards can grant a charter, as a result of the compromise. However, groups whose applications to start or restructure schools were rejected can appeal to the state board of education.

“Maryland is pleased to join a growing number of states that authorize and support the development of public charter schools,” said state public schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. “We embrace and support the governor’s initiative and are extremely pleased with Hickok’s generous grant.”

Mrs. Grasmick yesterday also presented a completed copy of the Maryland Public Charter Schools Model Policy and Resource Guide. The manual shows school districts how to help groups trying to create a charter school apply for the maximum $200,000 in grant money — 95 percent of which must go toward building a school, not a staff.

The Monocacy Valley school has 196 students in kindergarten through seventh grade. The school expects to have an eighth grade by next year and as many as 250 students, said Principal BettejaneWeiss, whose school will receive some of the grant money.

“What this does is… really put the stamp on the philosophy of charter schools,” she said.

Angie L. Fish, who has one child in the Monocacy Valley second grade and another in the third grade, said she “loves” the charter school approach.

“It lets our children be curious about learning,” said Mrs. Fish, a public school teacher in Montgomery County.

Kim Brown, a teacher who also has children in the Monocacy Valley charter school, agreed.

“The students are happy and are learning,” she said. “It is very individualized.”

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