- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Legislation that could make it easier to start charter schools in Maryland is in a limbo now, with the House and Senate in a standoff over details.
With the session set to end Monday, the House and the Senate are at odds over how to encourage groups to create charter schools and qualify for the federal aid needed to meet start-up costs.
The Senate had long been the roadblock in a five-year struggle to gain support for the innovative schools schools that are taxpayer-funded, but allowed to operate outside the traditional public school system to meet the particular needs of their students.
But after Senate Majority Leader Clarence Blount, a Democrat who represents Baltimore, took up the cause this year, many supporters believed a state law authorizing charter schools would be a shoo-in.
The Senate approved Mr. Blount's bill last month 43-0, but this week the House added about 10 changes to a proposal it passed last year.
The changes, coupled with the philosophical and technical differences of the two chambers, make it unlikely that the proposal will pass the General Assembly by midnight Monday, proponents said.
"I'm not in a good mood to have them take [the Senate bill] and massacre it," Mr. Blount said. "If they put that many amendments on it, that means they don't want a bill."
Before yesterday's preliminary House vote, Mr. Blount and Sen. Christopher J. McCabe a Howard and Montgomery counties' Republican who has led a four-year fight for charter schools in the Senate said they hoped the General Assembly would approve a "lean" bill that "didn't fill in all the blanks" but left room for counties to set their own requirements.
Joni Gardner, president of the Maryland Charter School Network, said the Senate bill would be the better tool to get charter schools started.
"The House bill is too restrictive," she said, adding that the House bill's sponsor Delegate John Leopold, Anne Arundel County Republican deserves credit for continuing a push in the legislature for charter schools.
The House bill is 12 pages; the Senate bill is four.
House bills, including the current one, have emphasized the authority of the local boards to grant charters.
Both bills would now allow the state board to overturn local boards' chartering decisions on appeal, but the Senate bill would allow the state board to create additional chartering authorities.
Unlike the Senate bill, the House bill would largely keep the authority to hire and fire teachers under the control of the public school system rather than the chartered operators.
The state board of education supports charter school legislation which could make Maryland eligible for part of $190 million in federal funds.
While no law prevents charter schools from opening in Maryland, there are none although one experimental school in Baltimore is operated by a private contractor.
Opponents have argued that charter schools would undermine and drain resources from the public school system.

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