Lawmakers are taking action after Project Baltimore exposed stunning loopholes in state law concerning non-public schools.
Project Baltimore recently enrolled an undercover student into a Baltimore City church-exempt school and received a Maryland High School Diploma in two hours. We then went a step further and created our own church and our own school. Now, lawmakers are saying that cannot happen again.
Charles County Delegate Edith Patterson has introduced House Bill 356.
“Any type of scheme that is employed, I think it’s awful. It’s disingenuous. But most of all it’s taking advantage of the system,” says Del. Patterson.
Currently, Maryland law allows churches to set up private schools. But a recent Fox45 investigation found once the state approves the school, it provides little to no oversight of any kind, even as these schools receive millions of dollars every year in state funding.
But that could soon change. House Bill 356 addresses the problems exposed by Project Baltimore, which prompted the Maryland State Department of Education to take immediate action by launching its own investigation, tightening restrictions, and suspending a handful of non-public schools.
“What Fox45’s coverage of the school in Baltimore City revealed that we need more oversight of these types of schools,” says Del. Eric Luedtke, a democrat from Montgomery County. “A lot of people in the private school community are equally as upset because they think it makes all private schools look bad.”
House Bill 356 does two things. First, it requires church-exempt schools and other non-public schools to submit their building, fire and safety permits to the state board of education. It also mandates those same schools send their curriculum and accreditations to state regulators for review.
“We need to keep all kids safe. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a private school or a public school, you need to be in a safe building,” says Del. Luedtke. “The second one is for parents to have the ability to get information about the school they are sending their kids to.”
House Bill 356 was introduced with 11 sponsors, and all of them are Democrats. But April Rose, a Republican from Carroll County, says this is the type of bill everyone could get behind.
“On the face of it, it sounds pretty good,” says Del. Rose. “I think accountability and taking care of tax dollars and our kids really is a bi-partisan issue.”
“I’m strongly supportive of it and I chair the subcommittee,” says Luedtke. “So, I think it has a really good shot of getting through the House. The Senate’s a question mark.”
The bill will have its first hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on February 14. Project Baltimore will be there.