Maryland lawmakers reject school choice amendment proposed for “failing schools”

The perennial debate over school choice programs resurfaced in Annapolis this week as Republican Delegate Mark Fisher proposed merging his “Right to Learn Act” with another education bill through an amendment.

Fisher’s bill, HB1027, aims to provide state funding for students in consistently low-performing public schools to attend private, charter or other public institutions of their choice. Schools rated one-star by the Maryland State Department of Education for three consecutive years would be classified as “failing” under the proposed legislation.

The amendment garnered support from several Republican lawmakers who argue the measure gives underprivileged students trapped in struggling or even dangerous schools a viable alternative.

“They can’t read, they can’t write, and they can’t do simple math,” Fisher stated. “We need to break that cycle once and for all.”

Delegate Kathy Szeliga added, “Some people here send their kids to private school, let’s give other kids the same opportunity.”

However, the proposal faced pushback from Democrats who contend it would siphon critical funding away from public education systems.

“What this bill essentially sets out to do is privilege private education with public dollars,” said Delegate Stephanie Smith. “That is not the best use of public dollars.”

The amendment also included a provision allowing “violent or disruptive” students to attend military boarding schools on the state’s dime, which Fisher defended by citing Governor Wes Moore’s own experience.

Ultimately, the House overwhelmingly rejected the amendment in a 98-36 vote. Meanwhile, the primary Right to Learn Act appears stalled in committee, diminishing its chances of passage this legislative session.

Undeterred, Fisher vowed to continue championing the school choice cause: “I’m going to try again and again and again, because this is the civil rights issue of our time.”

The contentious debate highlights the ongoing ideological rift over channeling public funds toward private education options and ensuring quality schooling for all students.