Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rise Of The Charters: Progress In The Old Line State

In 2003, Maryland passed a law authorizing charter schools. There are now 15 public school charters up and running statewide:
In all, 3,321 students, from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, attend 15 charter schools statewide, according to a report released here Tuesday. The enrollment is up more than 3,000 from the previous academic year, when Monocacy Valley Montessori School in Frederick was the state's lone charter school.

Maryland now has more charter schools than Virginia -- which has three, serving about 200 students -- but far fewer than the District -- which has 52, serving nearly 18,000 students, according to state and D.C. officials.

But the advances have been slow and the obstacles have remained high since enactment of Maryland's charter law in 2003, a State Board of Education review shows.

Board members complained that the state law leaves unanswered major funding and regulatory questions about charter schools.

"We just don't know what the rules are," said board Chairman Edward L. Root of Cumberland. "We're building the airplane as it's taxiing down the runway."

Still, the opening of 14 charter schools this year was a milestone because of the political and bureaucratic struggles that preceded them. Advocates say the schools are providing new options for parents of disadvantaged and minority students. More than 70 percent of students in Maryland charter schools are black, and more than 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, a poverty indicator.

About 20 charter applications are pending or expected for the next school year, Crain said. Among them are one in Howard County, one in St. Mary's County, three in Anne Arundel and the five in Prince George's. Most of the rest are from Baltimore.
The chief obstacle to the opening of more charters in Maryland seems to be due to the usual reason: disputes over their funding.

It remains to be seen if the charters will be more successful than traditional school configurations.
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