Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Hogan signs charter school reforms


Maryland Gov Larry Hogan, a Republican, signed Senate Bill 595, which was hated by charter school proponents because, they claim, it rolls back the state’s charter school law.

The bill still includes many important charter school changes, but Democratic senators on the Education, Health, & Environmental Affairs Committee turned it into something that didn’t at all resemble the proposals Mr Hogan had originally sought.

The panel removed provisions to exempt charters from the teachers’ union, to force equitable funding for charters, to allow charter operators to open online schools, and to allow a central board in the state to overrule the decision of a local board of education that denies a charter.

In other news, Mr Hogan (front right) met with Maryland Municipal League essay winners on May 14. Nearly 2,000 students wrote about their personal vision for increasing civility while solving a problem in their communities. (Joe Andrucyk via Flickr)

“I am fully aware that the politics of Annapolis can be ‘tricky,’ but to completely ignore the warnings of local charter school leaders, news media, local businesses, parents and national experts is extremely troubling and does not put the interests of students first,” said Center for Education Reform President Kara Kerwin.

A dark shadow, though, falls on Ms Kerwin’s statement. First, her commentary notably lacks any reference to the opinion of “educators.” Wouldn’t they be more important than “local charter school leaders” when it comes to putting Maryland’s students first? Second, news organizations in Maryland haven’t exactly been “warning” the governor not to sign the bill.

Voxitatis is on the record, in a major way, as opposing online-only schools, except for a very small population of students who need what they can offer, and especially in kindergarten through eighth grade. We wrote when Illinois considered virtual charter schools:

“While there is a place for computer-assisted education in the classroom, approval of an online charter school should not be rushed through,” the Daily Herald quoted one woman as saying. “Largely online learning eliminates socialization, developing collaboration and teamwork and self-definition.”

Carol Higgins, a special-education teacher at Lincoln Junior High School in Naperville, said children need contact: “The human element of Naperville schools cannot be replaced with an online program. Every child needs to have someone, in the morning, say, ‘Hey! Good morning. How are you doing?’ You can’t get that in some online program.”

This is the message I have been professing since I started this website. Technology has a great role to play in schools, but it can’t replace a teacher. Teachers should use technology effectively to deliver their lessons or to provide assistance for students with special needs. That’s the role of technology.

Other news media hasn’t exactly been calling on the governor to veto the bill either. In fact, the Baltimore Sun said he should sign it, despite the stripping of certain provisions. The paper’s editors wrote:

There are an estimated 12,000 students across the state who would like to attend a charter school but can’t unless more schools are allowed to open. The bill on the governor’s desk does little to change that.

Nonetheless, we disagree with those charter advocates calling on the governor to veto this bill. Doing so would not make it more likely that the legislature will approve more substantive reforms later in his term; quite the contrary, it would diminish the chances for any future cooperation on the issue by the legislature. And the law does at least include advances on charter funding transparency, prioritized enrollment for disadvantaged students and some added flexibility on staffing and policy for high-performing charters.

The new law makes a few positive changes that charter proponents should take some pleasure in. Whatever the arguments may have been in the past, Maryland’s lawmakers, in Mr Hogan’s first year as governor, have passed a few good charter school reforms—just not as many as Mr Hogan would have liked. His term is still young, and already, he has accomplished more for charters than Democratic governors did with a Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

We applaud the governor’s signature on SB 595, which before he took office, would not have made it to a Senate panel’s agenda.

When it comes to effective school reform, baby steps are usually best. Sweeping changes in the past, if charter advocates have learned anything from history (which it seems they haven’t), have shown that people resist big changes in one fell swoop. The opposition has made many reform efforts across the nation ineffective, despised, and problematic.

What we have now is a starting point, and from here, we can bring meaningful choices to parents of students who need those choices because they attend failing public schools in the state.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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