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Hogan Charter Bill Moves Forward After Major Overhaul

Christopher Connelly/WYPR

After days of re-drafting and deliberation, a Senate committee moved forward Tuesday on Gov. Larry Hogan’s charter school reform legislation. But it did so after major re-working. In the end, all but one senator on the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee approved a charter reform bill that looked very little like Hogan’s proposal.

“Nobody’s going to be completely happy,” said Chairman Joan Carter Conway. “I haven’t been happy since the day I saw this bill.”

Hogan’s bill would have exempted charters from local teachers unions, given operators more say in hiring and steered more state dollars to charters. The Senate bill does away with all of that.

The amended bill does give charters more flexibility in which students they admit. Siblings of current students can be weighted in the application lottery, for example; same too, underprivileged students who live nearby.

“Someone used the phrase threading the needle. And I think that’s just what this does,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, who chairs the education subcommittee.

Pinsky said Hogan’s bill would have created a parallel system of schools operating with public money but free from public oversight. He said the Senate version gives more flexibility on things like curricula and textbooks to schools that have proven themselves academically and fiscally strong. “If someone’s successful, you give them more authority and responsibility. And the ones that aren’t, they’ve got to be held more accountable,” Pinsky said.

“We would like to see it go a lot further than what is being proposed in the legislature,” said Keiffer Mitchell, an advisor to Hogan on charters and former Democratic delegate from Baltimore. “The fact remains that you have over 14,000 families on a waiting list to get into charter schools.”

Maryland has one of the strictest charter laws in the country, which earns it low ranks from national charter associations but praise from those skeptical of the schools. Only 47 charters are open in Maryland now, and Mitchell says attracting more charters would help solve persistent achievement gaps in the state.

“We don’t see this as a silver bullet in terms of education reform. But it helps move the ball forward to allow for better choice for our parents and kids,” Mitchell said.

This bill goes next to the full Senate. The House is working on its own version. Mitchell says he hopes he’ll have better success convincing delegates to leave more of Hogan’s ideas in than out.

Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.