Ways and Means Committee
Jenese Jones, Interim Executive Director
Good morning members of the Committee.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Jenese Jones, and I am the interim executive director for MarylandCAN, a local nonprofit education advocacy and research organization. Since 2012, MarylandCAN has advocated for policies to ensure all our children in Maryland receive a high-quality education.
As the product of the public schools system in Maryland and a first-generation college graduate who grew up in a working class family where education was the key to prosperity, I know all too well the impact a high quality education can have on children who come from communities similar to me. With this conviction, I am unwavering in the belief that each of our children can succeed and thrive in schools that prioritize his or her unique needs and talents.
We urge you to support Senate Bill 704, The Public Charter School Act of 2017, which creates an independent public charter school authorizer for the state and creates flexibility to bring high quality public school options to the state.
This legislation is critical in advancing equity and expanding high-quality educational options for Maryland families who need, demand and deserve the best educational opportunities for their children.
This bill comes at a critical juncture for Maryland students. In 2015, Maryland passed a law that took an enormous step forward for high-quality education in our state. By rethinking charter lotteries and charter facilities, we increased access to high-quality schools for promising young scholars. This bill presents a another opportunity to continue building on that success by ensuring stronger accountability and funding for charters and increased autonomy at the school level so that teachers and leaders can make the best possible decisions to suit the needs of their students. We know that other states have already taken these steps forward. We know it works.
Three years ago, MarylandCAN released our Opportunity Schools Report, which showcased elementary and middle schools that break the link between poverty and lower achievement for Baltimore students. We had plenty to celebrate – eight incredible schools with strong principals and effective teachers that propelled traditionally disadvantaged students to the highest levels of success.
But, when we began research on a follow up report celebrating high schools with the same outcomes, we were unable to find a single non-entrance criteria high school in Baltimore that could boast the same success. Not a single one. By the time Baltimore students reach high school, not one single non-entrance criteria high school is preparing them for a lifetime of economic or professional success. We can and must do more.
But as we continued work on this report, and widened our lens to seek out high schools around the country that successfully serve populations like ours, we found bright spots that gave us hope. And we found schools that brought me here in support of this bill today.
Ten high schools, from Massachusetts to Florida to California, are successfully driving students like ours toward higher SAT scores and higher college matriculation rates. Nine of these 10 schools are public charter schools. Leaders and teachers at 8 of these 10 schools cite school-level decision-making power as a critical driver of their success.
Today, public charter schools in Baltimore have neither the level of autonomy, nor the successful student outcomes that public charter schools around the country are able to deliver. There are thousands of children in dire need of high schools with the same autonomy. According to the Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools, during the 2015-16 school year, it was estimated that 14,000 families were on waiting lists for public charter schools throughout the state of Maryland.
The Public Charter School Act of 2017 takes a critical first step in the right direction. It would expand authorizing options, increase autonomy at the school level, and ensure more equitable access to funding for public charter schools. By allowing school leaders to make better, more responsive staffing and budget decisions at the school level, this bill helps the state’s educational system better meet their students’ unique and diverse needs.
Additionally, Equitable facilities funding will open the realm of possibilities for public charter schools and strengthen the sector as a whole. With such funding, no public charter school will be forced to divert funding from the classroom to see that students have a comfortable, safe environment conducive to learning.
As I continue to visit schools throughout Baltimore, I am encouraged by the immense potential our children have to become academic leaders, locally and across the state. They deserve every opportunity to succeed and thrive, the same ways that I have as an African american leader, who in many ways share a similar upbringing as the students I advocate for everyday. We know that school-level decision making allows school leaders and administrators the flexibility they need to serve our children.
MarylandCAN supports Senate Bill 704 because it is an important step forward to ensure that every child receives the quality education he or she deserves. We know that you have much to consider in the legislative proposals before you, but we ask you to support the policies that will allow us to bring more high quality educational options to our state.
Please vote ‘yes’ on this bill. Because our kids can’t wait.