- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

The Maryland General Assembly wrapped up its legislative session the other day, and the legislature got an incomplete grade as far as educational issues are concerned.

That's because lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would have encouraged the establishment of charter schools. Both chambers considered charter school legislation. The House of Delegates, with bipartisan support, approved legislation that would have essentially wrapped charter schools in some of the same red tape that strangles regular public schools. But that was at least a step in the right reform direction. The Senate, on the other hand, backed away by delaying action and saying it wants to study the issue through the summer. Here again, lawmakers have doomed tens of thousands of students to another year in failing schools.

Although the state does not prohibit the establishment of charter schools, current law merely permits local authorities to create them. While the District of Columbia and 33 states have charter schools, Maryland has none, and only one Maryland school district, Montgomery County, has even bothered to establish guidelines. Those guidelines led to one charter school application, and that was recently rejected for all the familiar reasons: Charter schools drain money from public schools and siphon off the best principals and teachers. Of course, neither is true.

Fortunately, parents with children in struggling schools don't necessarily have to wait for the General Assembly to get its legislative act together. Among other things, they could petition the state Board of Education to take over poorly performing schools and bring in new management. The board has already set the precedent. Just last month it selected a New York firm to run three troubled Baltimore elementary schools the state took over in February. Edison Schools Inc. is expected to assume management of the schools on July 1. Edison, which runs 79 schools in 16 states and the District of Columbia, will hire the teachers and the staff for the three Baltimore schools. The reason for the takeover is painfully clear: Since 1993, barely 10 percent of each school's students met the standards of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Test.

There are plenty of other candidates for takeover too. Already the state legislature and the Glendening administration have "chosen" the schools by way of the state's so-called school-watch list, which targets and threatens for takeover underperforming schools. At present, there are more than 90 schools on the list, and more than half of them are in Baltimore and a dozen are in Prince George's County.

Notwithstanding the failure of the Maryland legislature to act this year, why should parents in these troubled schools have to wait for things to get even worse so that outside groups can take them over? Don't be surprised if those parents petition lawmakers to establish charter schools. They have nothing to lose but lousy schools.

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