The bill originally was pushed by charter advocates because it would have given charter operators greater authority and was a way to increase the number of such schools in the state. But it was significantly watered down as it made its way through the legislature.
Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, sent a letter to Hogan last week asking him not to sign the bill.
“The Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015, no longer reflects the bold change your original proposal envisioned and will do nothing to improve the state’s already ‘F’ graded charter school law,” Kerwin wrote. “In fact, some of the provisions are a step backwards.”
Hogan legislative director Joseph M. Getty said the governor nevertheless plans to sign the bill, citing support for other charter advocacy groups like Maryland CAN. Getty called the bill “small progress, but it’s progress.”
The governor’s original bill made sweeping changes to the state’s charter law, giving schools the ability to hire and fire teachers, doing away with a requirement that charters fall under state collective bargaining rules and giving charters more say over who can attend.
The amended bill does not change hiring rules, but it does provide some leeway on enrollment. It also offers some flexibility regarding certain state educational requirements for high-performing charter schools that have been in existence for at least five years, are in good financial shape and have a student achievement record that exceeds the local school system’s. Those charters would be exempt from specific requirements about scheduling, curriculum, and professional development.
Kerwin said the bill would prohibit online charter schools, which are operating in 29 states across the country. She said it also gives the state Board of Education less power.
“If this is signed into law, Maryland will be the first state to roll back its charter law, which isn’t good for the movement,” Kerwin said.
Kerwin said even one of the most promising elements of the bill, providing some charters with more flexibility, could prove to be a problem. Instead of those charters being able to negotiate throughout the term of the charter to make operational changes, the bill makes all negotiations subject to a legal agreement, Kerwin said.
Not all advocates agree with Kerwin. Jason Botel, executive director of Maryland CAN, said the bill is a “good step in the right direction” and added that he looks forward to the bill being signed.
“This is a building block to build more improvements in the future,” Botel said.
But Kerwin said if Hogan signs the bill it could impede future efforts for reform.
“We know there will not be another at-bat to try to bring meaningful change,” Kerwin said.
Getty said legislators are more likely to consider additional reforms next year or two years from now.
“Some people think you have one at-bat per term,” Getty said. “I don’t think that’s true. We got a lot of buy-in on this legislation. . . I don’t view it as one bite at the apple. . . We’re in a better bargaining position with this bill in place. It gives us an opportunity to experiment and to make fixes.”