- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Maryland State Board of Education has ruled that school systems must provide as much money to charter-school operators for their students as they do for traditional public-school students.

The board’s three, nearly identical rulings on appeals by Baltimore and Prince George’s County charter schools could force local systems to spend more than they had anticipated on charter schools.

The decisions could also give charter schools more control over their programs and free them from dependence on fundraising and on partners with deep pockets, such as foundations.

“It’s just a great decision for charter schools,” Will DuBois, an attorney for City Neighbors Charter School in Northeast Baltimore, told the Baltimore Sun. “It has done a lot to clarify what the relationship between charter schools and local boards will be.”

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently under contracts with local school boards or regulating agencies.

More than 3,000 charter schools have opened since the movement began in the early 1990s.

Maryland has only one — the Monocacy Valley Montessori charter school in Frederick County, which opened in 2002. But opening more has been a hot issue since Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, signed a charter-school law two years ago. Local school boards grant or deny charter applications, according to the law.

A state official said last week that 15 organizations — one in Prince George’s County, two in Anne Arundel County and 12 in Baltimore — are now 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.

This is the second time the state board has been asked for guidance on the law.

The board ruled in October that systems could not place a limit on the number of charter schools that could open in a given year.

In its rulings Friday, the state board said systems must give operating money to charter schools in cash, instead of a combination of cash and system-provided services.

The directive could mean that Baltimore’s charter schools would receive nearly $11,000 per child out of the city school system’s operating money, which come from a combination of local, state and federal funds.

That figure — included in a state estimate of how much city schools spend, on average, per child in traditional public schools — is more than twice what school officials had offered to pay. It also was more than the $7,500 per child that charter schools had hoped to receive.

“It exceeded the expectations,” said lawyer Richard C. Daniels, who filed an appeal on behalf of Patterson Park Public Charter School.

“However, the analysis provided by the state appears to be sound, and I believe it’s in accord with what the law is.”

Baltimore school officials said they were disappointed by the rulings and were weighing their options.

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