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Mobtown Beat

City Council Discusses Gap in School-Construction Funding for Some Charter Schools

The prospect of Transform Baltimore, a Baltimore City push for massive school-construction funding modeled on the Maryland Stadium Authority (“Schoolhouse Plot,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 29), has suddenly highlighted a potential gap in the plan: funding capital improvements to privately owned facilities leased by public charter schools.

The City Council’s Committee on Education and Youth’s packed-house informational hearing on Nov. 1 about Baltimore’s 33 charter schools—13 or 14 of which lease private space, according to hearing testimony, and currently cannot tap into schools-system funding for facilities improvements—provided a forum for officials and citizens to discuss the problem.

The hearing was scheduled quickly, thanks to a fast-tracked resolution by City Councilman Bill Henry (D-4th District), who said Transform Baltimore “doesn’t take into account charter schools that aren’t in city-owned buildings.” After having conversations over the past few weeks with charter school parents and operators concerned about this, Henry said, “it was clear that we should probably all be in one room having these conversations at the same time.”

Carol Beck, director of the nonprofit Supporting Public Schools of Choice, said 12 percent of the city’s public schools students now attend charter schools, which are operated independently of the appointed school board, and while 11 of the 14 City Council districts have charter schools located in them, all districts have charter school students as residents. The charter schools, Beck said, “are funded by a state formula,” but the lack of public funding for charter schools’ facilities that are leased from private owners poses a question: “How do you provide the best facility possible?”

Henry told the gathering that, after some hive-minding as a result of the hearing, “we can all together go to our delegates and senators and ask” how to address the funding gap with state legislation during the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session, which begins in January.

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