2021 | Schools

UPDATED: Board of Education denies two charter school applications

Concerns raised about funding, long-term financial viability

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This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. July 29, 2021, to add comments from the applicants.

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to deny two charter school applications.

Charter schools are tuition-free schools that are publicly funded, but privately run. There are currently no charter schools in operation in Montgomery County.

Only one charter has ever received approval from the school board, which can approve and deny applications.

One application that was denied on Tuesday came from the Washington-McLaughlin School for Boys and the Washington-McLaughlin School for Girls. The applicant proposed single-gender programs for elementary school children.

Through dividing students by gender, the applicant wanted environments more friendly for boys and girls to be more comfortable and engaged in learning.

Niki Hazel, MCPS’ associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional programs, said the district’s review panel noted the strengths in the application, such as following MCPS curriculum and procedures, and a passion for working with kids.

But the applicant did not demonstrate a viable financial plan or have a clear plan for preparing the school site and did not know the extent of repairs needed, Hazel said.

Washington-McLaughlin also did not have start-up funds to cover building repairs. The revenue for the school only factored in the projected cost per student.

Pauline Washington, the founder of Washington-McLaughlin School, told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that she will take the board’s comments into consideration and plans to reapply next year for the 2023-24 school year.

Washington owns the Washington-McLaughlin Adult Day Care Center in Takoma Park. 

The other application was for a college preparatory and vocational school for middle and high school students interested in business. It is called Mentoring by Example College & Career Academy (M.E.C.C.A.) Business Learning Institute.

The proposed charter school would have been in the Takoma Park/Silver Spring area.

Earlier in the review process, the district favored the board giving conditional approval of the charter school application for the M.E.C.C.A. Business Learning Institute.

But the board denied the request based on concerns about the stability and long-term viability of the financial funding model.

Prior to the application, the school received a $1 million start-up grant from the Maryland State Department of Education.

Board President Brenda Wolff said the board received additional information concerning the financial funding late Monday night, but did not have time for a detailed analysis of it before Tuesday’s vote.

“I know this has been a very difficult year for all of us. I’m sure the pandemic interrupted some of the momentum and planning that went into the application,” Wolff said. “But in the end, we were unable to ascertain — or at least, I’m unable to ascertain — how costs beyond those that we are providing money for [are] really going to be covered.”

Board member Karla Silvestre pointed out that MCPS already has a finance academy at Paint Branch High School, in the same area where the proposed charter would open. She wondered how well a new school would recruit students.

Board member Lynne Harris encouraged the applicant not to give up on a charter school. She said she liked that the proposal addressed problems students have brought up surrounding financial literacy education.

“I actually see a lot to like in this proposal,” Harris said. “I think it’s [a] very interesting concentration in finance starting in the sixth grade. It coincidentally builds on some student advocacy that we’ve been hearing quite a bit of over the past eight months around the need for better and more comprehensive financial literacy opportunities and educational curricula in MCPS.”

Still, the board said it did not have the information it needed to fully assess the long-term viability of the school, and whether it could open by September 2022.

“We encourage them to continue working on their vision,” Wolff said.

The M.E.C.C.A. Business Learning Institute declined to comment on the board’s decision when reached by Bethesda Beat on Thursday. 

Asked if or how the Montgomery County Board of Education decision affects  the M.E.C.C.A. Business Learning Institute’s $1 million grant, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Department of Education said Thursday that she would check.