TRNN speaks to supporters and opponents of Gov. Hogan’s proposal to increase freedoms for charter schools, while critics warn the measures could lead to abuse and undermine collective bargaining
TRISTAN MUNCHEL, REPORTER: On Thursday, February 27, teachers, lobbyists, parents, and lawmakers traded fire in Annapolis, where the Maryland House of delegates held a public hearing on a bill to expand the independence of charter schools operating in Maryland. The bill, which was proposed by Republican governor Larry Hogan, would loosen measures that hold charter schools accountable to local school boards and would likely exclude charter school teachers from public teachers unions. The bill would also eliminate the need for charter school teachers to hold state certification. LARRY HOGAN, GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND: Well, as I said earlier, independent educational experts have ranked us, given us an F grade. We’re last in the nation. I would venture to say that’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to me, not acceptable to anybody in this room, nor should it be acceptable to anybody in the legislature or anybody that’s a kid in our schools. So we’re trying to get more flexibility. It’s going to give kids more options. And we’ve taken into consideration states have been much more successful than us. We think our bill’s a good bill. We think it has bipartisan support, and we think it should be voted on as important. MUNCHEL: At a press conference in the capital Thursday, Governor Hogan invited parents and school administrators to help rally support for the bill. Later, former delegate Keiffer Mitchell testified to the House Ways and Means Committee in favor of charter school expansion. KEIFFER MITCHELL, SPECIAL ADVISOR TO GOVERNOR HOGAN: Well, there are all those concerns. But, again, the purpose of the bill is to allow charters to act out their missions and provide them the flexibility and the accountability for doing what they do best, and that is education, educating kids. MUNCHEL: Maryland currently has 47 charter schools, 31 of which operate in Baltimore City. Unlike in other states, Maryland school charters must be approved by local school districts, and charter school teachers, who are considered state employees, are subject to local union contracts. Critics of charter schools have argued that in states with fewer restrictions, charter school operators can engage in discriminatory and financially irresponsible practices. If Hogan’s bill passes in its current form, charter teachers will be excluded from local unions. This worried Holly Fredrickson, a speech-language pathologist at Wolfe Street Academy in Fells Point. HOLLY FREDRICKSON, SPEECH-LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST: So if that were taken away, we’d essentially be changing our employer, and we wouldn’t be able to be guaranteed of our pay, our pension, any of that. And that’s why I was saying that I’m afraid that a lot of the teachers, if the bill does pass, that a lot of the teachers will choose to leave the charter schools, to stay within Baltimore City, so they can remain part of the union. MUNCHEL: Todd Reynolds, political coordinator for Maryland’s American Federation of Teachers, also disagreed with the bill. TODD REYNOLDS, POLITICAL COORDINATOR, AFT-MD: It’s just factually untrue that Maryland charter school law is the worst charter school law in the country. We feel it’s actually one of the best. We do not have the level of corruption and mismanagement, both managerial mismanagement and fiscal mismanagement, that other states have. I mean, other states, many of the charters are under indictment. A lot of the other states are actually looking to Maryland’s law and saying, we need to do what Maryland’s doing. We need to go and have more local oversight. We can’t have a free market of education, which is kind of what this bill does. MUNCHEL: However, many people support the changes. Peter Kemeny and Allison Rizzo, parents whose children attend the Frederick Classical Charter School, were excited that the bill would allow for changes in funding to charter schools. PETER KEMENY, CHARTER SCHOOL PARENT: We think it’s a wonderful bill, and we think the parents in Maryland should have more choice about where to educate their children. We think charter schools should have more control about who they hire. We think they should have fair funding for providing the education. This is a public school. And in Maryland, they’re always talking about choice. Well, here’s an opportunity to allow parents to have choice about where they educate their children. MUNCHEL: Supporters of the bill have pointed out that it does provide a legal framework for charter school teachers to collectively bargain. When The Real News asked Governor Hogan to respond to criticisms that this framework would weaken the teachers’ position, this was his response. HOGAN: If you don’t have any flexibility in the law, then charter schools would be just like the other schools, and you don’t get the advantages. The bill provides flexibility, but it does provide for the teachers to organize and to have collective bargaining in the charter schools, which is wrong. MUNCHEL: President of the Baltimore teachers union Marietta English disagreed, favoring the current law. MARIETTA ENGLISH, PRESIDENT, MALTIMORE TEACHERS’ UNION: Our law allows for all employees to be members of the collective bargaining agreement. The other states don’t allow that. They’re employed by the operator. And so they’re not allowed to belong to the collective bargaining agreement. And that’s the problem that the operators are talking about. They want to be able to hire and fire their own people. They don’t want them to have a voice in the workplace. MUNCHEL: Earlier this month, Democratic Senate leader Mike Miller indicated that he would be willing to help Governor Hogan pass charter school reforms, provided that the governor return $35 million in proposed budget cuts to Baltimore City schools. Asked about this, English responded. ENGLISH: That’s bribery. That’s bribery. So we’re going to take it. And if you do this for me, we’ll give it back to you. I don’t think that’s fair, and we’re not going to support that either. That money should be put back in the budget with no ties to this bill. MUNCHEL: Check in with The Real News Network for upcoming coverage of charter schools in Maryland. For now, this is Tristan Munchel, reporting from Annapolis.