- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

Bills that would allow only local school boards to authorize charter schools are gaining support in the Maryland General Assembly, even as a bill the Ehrlich administration backed languishes in committee.
A bill that Delegate John L. Leopold, Anne Arundel County Republican, sponsored has passed the House for the past two years and is likely to be approved again this year. Moreover, a bill that Sen. Roy P. Dyson, Calvert County Democrat, sponsored advanced in the Senate on Friday without amendment.
Both bills would allow only local school boards to authorize charter schools. The Ehrlich bill would create three chartering authorities: public universities, the State Board of Education and local school boards.
Charter school advocates prefer the Ehrlich version, saying local school boards have resisted efforts to open publicly funded, independently operated schools.
Versions of the Leopold and Dyson bills have passed the House and Senate in the past few years but have not emerged out of conference committees. Now that the state has a governor who supports charters, backers of the bill say they are more hopeful a charter-school-enabling law will be enacted.
Maryland is one of 11 states in the country without a charter law.
Mr. Leopold, who has introduced a charter bill for five years, said that although Mr. Ehrlich's bill is "ideal," it has little chance of passing this year because of the history of charter school bills.
"I commend the governor for introducing the bill, but the reality is that it will not be accepted by the Senate and the House," he said.
Mr. Leopold said his bill results from years of work and compromise, and has a much better chance. "We cannot allow our desire for an ideal bill to be an impediment to a good bill," he said.
Mr. Leopold said his bill should satisfy those who want multiple chartering authorities because it would allow rejected applicants to appeal to the State Board of Education.
"Within 18 months, Governor Ehrlich will be able to appoint the State Board of Education. This will help because, even if local school boards reject an application, the state board will allow it," he said.
Mr. Dyson, who has introduced his bill for three years, agreed that the governor's bill has little chance in the General Assembly.
"This bill is a good idea. … It may not be as broad as you want, but at least we can get federal dollars, and there are places in the state where charters would work well," he said.
The Ehrlich bill's chances were reduced further after it received an unfavorable report from the Senate education committee, which favorably reported out the Dyson bill. Some charter advocates expressed disappointment Friday about the Senate committee's action.
"I hope that Delegate Leopold's bill does not pass and Senator Dyson's bill does not pass. Those bills only meet the needs of boards and unions that do not want change," said Joni Gardner, president of the Maryland Charter School Network, which has been lobbying aggressively for the Ehrlich bill.
Others said they are willing to work with the Leopold and Dyson bills, including the state PTA, whose officials have taken a stand against the Ehrlich bill. The Maryland Association of Boards of Education, which opposes the Ehrlich bill, has favored legislation that would give chartering authority to local school boards only.
"The problem [with the Ehrlich bill] is it takes schools out of local control," said state PTA President Elizabeth Crosby.

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