- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - A Maryland Senate panel on Tuesday approved a heavily reworked version of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal to ease restrictions on the state’s charter-schools law.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted 10-1 for the measure, sending it to the full Senate for consideration this week. Committee members said the bill was the product of considerable compromise after long discussions.

“Nobody’s going to be completely happy,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the committee. “I haven’t been happy since the day I saw this bill.”

Joseph Getty, Hogan’s legislative and policy director, said the bill marked progress in helping to expand charter schools across the state. He cited a study that found charter schools have been hampered by restrictive regulations in Maryland.

“This offers a path,” Getty said. “It might not be as generous a path as we would like to see, but this offers a path for those charters to have more flexibility in their operations, and that was Gov. Hogan’s goal at the start of the process.”

Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, was the lone “no” vote. She opposed a provision that enables the state’s education board to grant a charter over the opposition of local school officials.

“I just think local control should be respected,” Kagan said.

Hogan introduced his legislation in early February to offer more flexibility and freedom for charter schools. He proposed exempting employees from state teacher certification, allowing charter schools to have the ability to apply for a waiver that would exempt them from many of the laws that govern public schools, and not requiring employees to be part of an existing teachers’ union or bargaining agreement. The measure was changed to remove or reverse those proposals.

Maryland adopted its charter-school law in 2003. It now has about 50 charters schools, a majority of them in the city of Baltimore.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that have more freedom than conventional schools to establish their curriculum and set policies. They are often operated by nonprofit organizations or groups of parents.

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