- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

Momentum is building for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s charter schools legislation, even though some lawmakers and the state PTA oppose it.
Dozens of parents, teachers and administrators appeared at a House Ways and Means Committee this week to testify in favor of the bill, along with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and Eugene Hickok, U.S. undersecretary of education.
The Ehrlich bill would create three chartering authorities the state school board, public universities and local school boards. However, the Senate version of the bill, which was modified by the education committee, would designate only local school boards as the chartering authority.
A vote scheduled on the bill in the Senate was postponed at the request of Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, who is lobbying to re-instate the multiple chartering authorities.
Sen. Janet Greenip, Anne Arundel County Republican and a sponsor of the bill, said she hoped the bill would be restored to its original form, but added she would be willing to go with a bill that is "good enough."
Charter school advocates said they were encouraged by the House of Delegates committee hearing this week.
"The state is finally hearing that the people want a charter school bill. We need to do this right now," said Joni Gardner, president of the Maryland Charter Schools Network, which has been lobbying for the Ehrlich bill.
She said there also seemed to be much more interest among committee members about the bill than there has during the past few years.
Maryland is among only 11 states in the country without a charter school law, and Mr. Ehrlich has made getting such a bill passed this year one of his top legislative priorities.
Among those who testified at the committee hearing this week were several groups from Montgomery County, where advocates have been trying to start a charter school for three years.
Ellen Paul, co-president of Alliance for Better Children, a parent group, said charter schools are needed in the county because the same curriculum does not necessarily fit all of its nearly 140,000 students.
Mrs. Paul said multiple chartering authorities were important because local school boards are not always open to the idea of charters. She pointed to an effort by some educators to start the Jaime Escalante Charter School in Montgomery County, a proposal that has been rejected twice by the county school board.
"Multiple chartering authority is really important. We see, even in other states, that school boards do not welcome charters and can be hostile to the idea," Mrs. Paul said.
However, the state parent-teacher association believes multiple chartering boards would take away control and funding from local schools.
Elizabeth Crosby, president of the 250,000-member state PTA, said it was wrong to take money from local school districts to give to schools chartered by outside groups. "It also needs to be substantive so parents are allowed to become part of the process, to be part of the governing body," she said.
Mrs. Greenip dismissed those fears. "Many charter schools are actually founded by parents who play a large role in determining the curriculum and instructional methods from the beginning," she said.

Lawmakers in the House Environmental Matters Committee killed legislation yesterday to prohibit bear hunting for at least six more years.
Hunting for black bears has not been allowed in Maryland since 1953, but the Department of Natural Resources reports there are now about 400 bears in Maryland, mostly concentrated in the far western part of the state. That's about double the number in 1995. Complaints about bears damaging crops and property also have been on the rise, leading to calls to legalize hunting.
But the DNR opposed the bill, saying it wants to keep its options for controlling the population over the next few years.

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