MARYLAND AND Virginia are notoriously inhospitable to public charter schools; both have laws that rank among the worst in the country. Lawmakers who think this is okay, even praiseworthy, invariably fall back on the argument that their states have good education systems, so why not leave well enough alone?
Overlooked are the facts that charters can help children not served by one-size-fits-all schools; that while traditional public schools in Maryland and Virginia may look good in the aggregate, there are still places where children don’t have access to quality education; and that parents in jurisdictions where charters have become prevalent say they like having choices in what is among the most important areas affecting their children.
High-quality charters are not to be feared but encouraged. That’s why we hope for success in efforts now underway in the two states to reform charter laws. In Virginia, a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it easier to establish charter schools won approval this week in the Senate and, The Post’s Laura Vozzella reported, is expected to pass the House. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced in his State of the State address plans to introduce legislation to strengthen the state’s charter school law, including making charters eligible for school construction programs and easing hiring restrictions.
Key to both proposals are provisions that would remove the chokehold local school boards have on the opening of public charter schools. New authority to establish charters would be granted to the state boards of education. The unreasonable animus of local school boards against charters is seen in the fact that Virginia has only seven charters and Maryland has 51, mostly in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. By contrast, there are 60 charter schools on more than 100 campuses in the District. A report last month by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked the District’s law as one of the nation’s best, while Maryland’s law was rated the worst and Virginia’s was not much better.
The proposals face hurdles. In Virginia, it will be the arduous process of amending the state constitution (approval by the General Assembly is required in two consecutive years, followed by a referendum) and overcoming fears about eroding the state’s dearly loved tradition of local control. Mr. Hogan’s proposal, set to be introduced Monday, is likely to face opposition from the state’s powerful teachers unions. It’s important that supporters of charter schools not be dissuaded in fighting for changes that have the potential to create meaningful educational alternatives for the states’ children.