- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

Maryland officials said yesterday that they have given four groups in Prince George’s County $10,000 each to help them submit applications for opening charter schools.

“Creating a high-quality charter school application is the goal of prospective charter school operators,” said Pat Crain, director for the Maryland State Department of Education’s Office of School Innovations. “Therefore, [operators] should seek the advice of individuals who have been through this process before and can lend guidance and technical assistance.”

EXCEL Academy, El Inmigrante Community Public Charter School, Eagle-Lion Academy and Turning Point Academy Public Charter School in Prince George’s County were among the recipients of the 13 preplanning grants awarded in March to prospective charter school operators, Mr. Crain said.

Paul Shackelford, founder of the nonprofit Turning Point Foundation in Cheverly, is faced with a long, exhaustive application due by September.

“What we are doing is bringing a quality option to Prince George’s County children,” said Mr. Shackelford, 46, who hopes to open the tuition-free Turning Point Academy Public Charter School in 2006. “The bottom line in our county is we want to have choices, but have quality choices.”

The only charter in Maryland is Monocacy Valley Montessori charter school in Frederick County.

Local school boards grant or deny charter applications, according to a 2003 state law signed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Mr. Crain said state officials are unsure about the number of applications that will be submitted. Fifteen organizations — one in Prince George’s County, two in Anne Arundel County and 12 in Baltimore — have had applications approved and are in the charter-approval phase. Seven of the 12 Baltimore schools are public schools trying to convert to charter schools.

Montgomery County has no applications, though organizers for the Jaime Escalante Public Charter School have been rejected at least twice.

Mr. Crain said one explanation for the limited number of charters in Maryland is that local school boards are still learning the law.

Mr. Shackelford is confident about Turning Point because it is affiliated with Hyde Charter School in the District and in Bath, Maine.

“We understand the county’s rigorous scrutiny of the different applicants, but we believe in our system,” he said. “The bottom line to this is that we want to bring that quality type of choice to Prince George’s County.”

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