Governor Hogan recently announced his plan to expand charter school options and increase the amount of scholarship money allocated to private school students. Hogan has been a long-time proponent of school choice and charter schools, which are publicly funded but differ from public schools in that they may offer alternative curriculums, different class sizes, other hours of operation, and more. However, his proposals have been met with significant controversy arising out of criticisms of the viability of charter schools.
According to the Washington Post, Hogan has stated, “[Maryland’s current charter-school policy is] restrictive, vague, and has consistently rendered the state unable to compete for millions of dollars of federal charter-school grants.” In order to address this issue, he intends to propose policies that would give charter schools more freedom in the hiring and firing of staff and admissions. Additionally, he seeks to give charter schools an increased voice in curricula and book choice, as well as increased access to funds.
The second component of Hogan’s plan is to institute an independent panel to approve charter schools. The panel, proposed as the Maryland Public Charter School Authority, would essentially replace the current role of local school districts in authorizing charter schools.
“I believe that every child in Maryland deserves access to a world-class education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” Hogan said in a statement to the Washington Post. “The proposals we are announcing today ensure that we will continue to increase the choices available to Maryland families and provide high-quality education for all Maryland children.”
Another one of his proposals, BOOST, is a program which provides vouchers for low-income students to attend private school. It was approved by the General Assembly during the 2016 legislative session as part of a budget compromise. This past year, 2,464 private-school scholarships totalling $4.8 million were awarded to students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Hogan intends to double spending from five million to ten million over the next three years on the BOOST program.
The vast majority of the students receiving BOOST vouchers are from Baltimore and Montgomery Counties. However, critics point to the fact that more than 1,900 students receiving scholarships were already attending a private school as evidence that the vouchers targeting low-income students are not working as intended. Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, stated in support of BOOST, “We need to look for alternative, creative and outside-the-box ideas to help the students who need it most.”
Sean Johnson, assistant executive director of the Maryland State Education Association, is on the other side of the issue. According to the Washington Post, he stated, “Governor Hogan’s proposal amounts to an open invitation to for-profit entities to set up shop in Maryland and make money off our kids’ education.”
Montgomery Blair Junior Chas Goldman said, “Charter schools are not inherently bad and have been fairly successful in high-poverty areas when governed with strong accountability standards and when not driven by a profit-motive.” However, given the budgetary shortfalls of MCPS, he worries about the accountability of these schools. Goldman explained, “For-profit charter schools with lacking accountability mechanisms have failed spectacularly in the state of Michigan with strong support from our current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.”
As of right now, it is unclear whether the program or increased budget will be approved by the Maryland General Assembly. Similar legislation have been met with rancor in the past from House Speaker Michael E. Busch. However, Busch has recently expressed his willingness to compromise after listening to Democratic legislators and constituents from Baltimore and Prince George’s County (two counties with traditionally lower-performing schools) argue that students need more options.
Furthermore, the current political climate may play a role in the path of the bill. President Trump’s decision to appoint Betsy DeVos as the United States Secretary of Education has not sat well with a majority of the largely Democratic Maryland General Assembly and Senate. According to the Washington Post, Maryland Senator Richard S. Madaleno Jr. argued that it is “outrageous” and “irresponsible” for Hogan to privatize education, especially right after DeVos’ appointment.
Many believe policymakers should focus on public, rather than private, schools. A recent report by the state indicated that $2.9 billion more dollars must be allocated to the state’s public schools in order to ensure sustainability. Richard Montgomery High School sophomore Russell Corbin said, “Charter schools are for some people, but I think our governor should be focusing on fully funding our public schools first. They are paid for by tax dollars and should be prioritized as they benefit most kids.”
Ms. Katie Rossini, Montgomery County’s Student Leadership Coordinator, expressed similar sentiments. “I don’t think Hogan’s plan is beneficial to Montgomery County’s student population,” she said. We should continue to invest our resources in public schools.”
Goldman summarized the criticism against Hogan’s charter school initiatives: “[The proposal] could result in divestment in public education and weaker accountability standards for charter schools while mainly benefitting current private school attendees.” Conversely, increasing accessibility to charter schools may provide an important alternative to poor public schools. For now, Governor Hogan’s plan is still up in the air and opens another platform for contention on legislative agenda.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Emily Tian of Richard Montgomery High School