Ways and Means Committee
Derrell Bradford, Exec. Vice President, 50CAN, Exec. Dir., NYCAN
Distinguished Members of the Committee:
My name is Derrell Bradford and I am the Executive Vice President at 50CAN, the 50 State Campaign for Achievement Now, and the Executive Director of its New York effort, NYCAN, and I am here today in support of Senate Bill 704, The Public Charter School Act of 2017. What’s more important than that, however, is that I am a native of Baltimore—I grew up in Sandtown-Winchester—and I remain deeply interested in and concerned about the education of the city’s young people.
As a charter- and parent-choice advocate I first want to commend the members of this body—who took steps in 2015 to improve Maryland’s charter environment—for reviewing the state’s charter law again so quickly. Along with the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act many states are currently revisiting longstanding education policies. This renewed engagement provides a great opportunity to improve education for students across the country.
There are many features of this legislation that reflect the best practices being employed in charters across the country and in the region—including increased flexibility around staffing and school funding. But I want to highlight two improvements which are of particular note and importance.
The first is the provision creating a facilities grant program for charter schools. While the right regulatory environment is crucial for the growth and expansion of excellent charter schools, you can’t start a school without a building. And though colocation is a reasonable solution when there is available space in district buildings, it is not always ideal. Putting charter schools on equal footing with regard to facilities is a practice where both district and charter schools win.
The second is the creation of an independent authorizer, which is to say an authorizer that does not also have the responsibility of running traditional public schools or public school districts. You can see this device employed to great effect in states like New York, with the State University of New York’s Charter Schools Institute, and New Jersey, where the State Department of Education serves as the sole independent authorizing authority. Though having the State Department of Education as the sole authorizer presents its own political challenges, the separation of the authorizing function from the local running of schools provides the important distance necessary to make the growth of excellent charter schools a priority.
But to be clear, and though I care a great deal about the technical aspects of the law, I must tell you, as a child of Baltimore and of Sandtown-Winchester, my interest in this legislation is personal in a way that transcends simple policy. The first school I attended was at the corner of Carey and Gold Streets in West Baltimore. I grew up in the shadow of the old Fredrick Douglass High School on Baker Street. And I spent the majority of my young life at the corners of Pennsylvania and North Avenues, catching busses to schools far away from my neighborhood, including distant and beautiful Roland Park—and later Brooklandville—to get my education. I am a child of school choice and of Sandtown, and I view the education I received as the thing that has made it possible for me to be here before you today, urging you to adopt the sorts of policies that will let Baker Street children reach their full potential and become the rightful stewards of both their futures and our nation’s. Nothing less than that is at stake.
I am a supporter of Dr. Santileses and laud her efforts to improve education for Baltimore’s children. But I also believe the situation there remains dire and urgent in a way that commands more action from us than has currently be offered. Charter schools are a tool to solve the difficult problems. And there is a demand to use such tools given the nature of the challenges children in Baltimore face. There are no magic bullets to fix education but there are many devices to try to do so. I urge all of you to support SB 704 as it is among the strongest and best of those you have at your disposal.