Maryland's Republican caucus unveiled a five-part plan for education reform yesterday that's part George W. Bush and part Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Assembled in one of Baltimore's five "quasi-charter" schools, the GOP senators and delegates offered a Maryland version of President Bush's plan to give vouchers to parents of children who attend failing schools.
"It's about giving the parents a choice of where to send their children once their school has failed," said Sen. Andrew P. Harris of Baltimore County.
The plan by Harris - as well as a similar one being developed by Baltimore County Del. James F. Ports Jr. - would help parents of students at schools identified by the state as failing send their children to any public or private school.
The proposals are similar to a Bush plan that would take away federal funding from schools that are low-performing for three years in a row, letting parents use the money for private school tuition. Bush's plan is strongly opposed by congressional Democrats, and any such Republican legislation would face similar opposition in the General Assembly.
Under the Maryland GOP proposals, parents would be given "educational opportunity scholarships" to help pay for private schools - the equivalent of vouchers. The scholarships would be limited to a portion of the per-pupil spending in the school system, while the rest of the state money would remain at the original failing schools.
"Our vision is to allow some of that money to stay in the school, so it's win-win," Ports said.
The Republican caucus also called for the statewide expansion of a pilot program begun by Maryland's lieutenant governor to teach character education in schools. "We'd like to see that really being taught at home and reinforced in the schools," said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe of Howard County. "Sometimes it's not being taught at home, and you need to take it into the school.
"We think there's room in schools to do it, and we think it is a bipartisan issue," McCabe said.
Other parts of the Republican education agenda include:
Expanding the family income-eligibility limit from $80,000 to $95,000 for college students to be eligible for Maryland HOPE scholarships.
Supporting a recommendation from a state task force on education finance to give more money to local school systems to help pay for special education programs and the cost of transporting pupils with disabilities.
Passing legislation to make it easier to open public charter schools. Similar legislation has been rejected the past few years, though 36 other states and Washington, D.C., allow charter schools.
To illustrate the need for charter schools, the Republicans announced their education agenda at New Song Academy in Sandtown-Winchester - one of the schools created under the city's 1997 New Schools Initiative.
The initiative gives schools the same amount of money per pupil as regular public schools receive, but gives the schools control over how the money is spent. The schools also have control over staff, curriculum and philosophy.