- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Montgomery County has approved its first public charter school, a Montessori facility scheduled to open next year in Kensington.

The county school board voted 6-to-2 Monday night in favor of Crossway Community Inc.’s application to open an elementary school. The school will serve as many as 190 students from pre-kindergarten to third grade.

The nonprofit group already runs a preschool program at the site, and the application to expand is still contingent on some renovations.

The approval marks a significant advance for charter schools, which have primarily served as an alternative to under-performing, urban public schools.

County officials — whose schools have been frequently ranked among the best in the state and the country — had long resisted charters. However, school board members have more recently said a qualified charter could provide new learning opportunities and strengthen the school system.

The Maryland General Assembly legalized charter schools in 2003, giving local school boards complete authority over whether to accept or deny applications. The schools are founded by private groups, but are publicly funded and staffed by union teachers.

The state will now have 43 charters this fall, including 33 in Baltimore. There are more than 5,000 across the country.

Admissions at the Crossway school will be done through a lottery system.

The group, which educates and counsels mostly low-income families, initially sought to recruit students but was barred by Maryland laws. Though charter schools are required to make admissions open to everyone, the group is being allowed to market more aggressively to students from low-income families.

The board rejected a proposal from Crossway last year. And members postponed a vote earlier this month over concerns about the school’s proposed enrollment procedures

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