The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Another promising charter school is wrongly rejected by Montgomery County

Monifa B. McKnight, currently the interim superintendent for Montgomery County Public Schools, addresses participants in joint school safety training at Walter Johnson High School, in Bethesda on July 25. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

“I frankly think the possibility of charter schools is an exciting one — an opportunity to look at new ways of improving student performance,” said a member of the Montgomery County school board in 1998 after the board adopted a policy opening up the county for applications for charter schools. But more than 20 years later, no charter schools exist in Montgomery County, and the school board recently gave the thumbs-down to a promising proposed charter that would offer business and finance-related education. Having the local school board sign off on charter school applications is akin to requiring Target to get approval from Walmart to open a competing business — so let’s hope this misguided decision is overruled by the Maryland State Board of Education.

The county’s board of education last month rejected plans by MBEF College & Career Academies to establish a business-oriented school in Gaithersburg serving middle and high school students. The school, according to the group’s projections, would serve 700 students in sixth to 12th grade starting in the 2024-2025 school year. There would be a six-year phase-in plan to reach full capacity. The idea for the school resulted from mentoring and tutoring work the institute’s officials have done in the community with at-risk youths and young adults. Noticing that a lot was missing in the education of these students that couldn’t adequately be addressed outside school hours, LaChaundra Graham, one of the group’s founders, said, “We asked ‘how do we fill in these gaps?’ ” Leveraging business and philanthropic connections, the group put together plans for the school and secured a $900,000 grant from the state education department for start-up costs.

An application it submitted last year was rejected, but the group in April resubmitted it with modifications, including a change of location from Takoma Park to Gaithersburg. A school district panel consisting of 20 people with varying areas of expertise undertook an extensive review. Acting schools superintendent Monifa McKnight recommended the board grant conditional approval, finding the proposal identified “a clear vision, mission, and school plan” and that two of the founders had experience in public schools relevant to opening a charter school. Nonetheless, the board voted 7-1 (credit board member Lynne Harris for recognizing the potential merits of the proposal) against the bid, citing concerns about facilities and transportation. Never mind that the conditional approval recommended by Ms. McKnight required the school to meet certain criteria in those areas.

Given the county’s sad track record with charter schools — it refused to authorize the Jaime Escalante Public Charter School, and the one charter school that managed to open closed after two years — the vote didn’t come as a surprise. That, though, doesn’t make it any less disappointing to parents who would like to have a choice in their children’s education. The group plans to appeal the rejection to the state board. We wish them success.

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