Latino Leaders Want Pr. George's Charter
The Washington Post
September 17, 2003
By Nancy Trejos
A small group of Latino community leaders announced yesterday that it will
seek approval for a charter school in Prince George's County designed to help
The group's plan calls for a year-round school in Hyattsville -- one of
the county's most diverse neighborhoods -- initially serving students in
kindergarten to third grade. Students would be taught in English and their
native languages, the organizers said, and parents would be offered free English
The fledgling effort highlights a push by Hispanic community leaders to
gain more political clout in the county, where the number of Hispanic residents
has nearly doubled in the past decade. Hispanics made up 7.1 percent of the
population of Prince George's in the 2000 Census, second only in Maryland to
Montgomery County, where Latinos were 11.5 percent.
"They're growing by leaps and bounds, they are requiring more services and
there is a diminishment of services to them," said Carmen Roman, a Spanish
professor at the University of Maryland and one of the organizers of the charter
Roman and other Latino activists contend that the Prince George's school
district has failed to pay enough attention to immigrant children, especially
Latinos. The district does not employ enough Spanish-speaking teachers, guidance
counselors and other employees, they said, and parents are often not encouraged
to play an active role in their children's schools.
Hispanic students also have fared poorly on standardized tests: Last
month, the average SAT score increased 15 points for African American students
in the county but dropped 10 points for Hispanics, compared with the year
"I think the scores speak for themselves," Roman said. "It is the
immigrant and minority communities that are suffering in all the testing."
Since taking over June 1, new county schools chief André J. Hornsby has
said he would include improving services for the growing Latino population among
his goals. Prince George's is one of the few school systems in the region where
Latino students outnumber whites. Black students remain the overwhelming
majority, representing 77.4 percent of the district's roughly 136,000 students,
while Latinos make up 10.6 percent and white students 8.3 percent.
School board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) said this week
that the school system does all it can to help immigrant students. And she
pointed out that the group proposing the charter school had not contacted the
board to talk about its concerns.
"I don't know what kind of services they want," Tignor said. "If they want to
work with us, we're willing to work with them."
If approved by the school board, the proposed charter school would be the
first in the county and just the second in Maryland. But its proponents -- who
include a counselor, an adult education teacher in Virginia, a pupil personnel
worker for Montgomery's public schools, and the president of a Latino advocacy
group in Prince George's -- will face many hurdles.
In Maryland, a local school board's consent is required for charters,
despite attempts by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to enact legislation that
would have taken the local boards out of the approval process. Still, a state
law that took effect this summer was intended to make it easier to establish
charter schools by allowing applicants to appeal denials to the State Board of
Maryland's first charter school opened in Frederick last year. Montgomery
County is working with the San Francisco-based Knowledge is Power Program to
create a charter program within an existing middle school within the next two
years. Nationally, the number of charter schools has increased dramatically.
According to the Washington-based Center for Education Reform, a charter school
advocacy group, one such school existed in 1992; today there are at least 2,700.
Yet in Prince George's, Hornsby and some school board members have
indicated that they are either opposed to or undecided about the concept.
Charter opponents often argue that the schools, which operate outside the
control of the local school system yet receive federal funding, drain money and
parental involvement from the public schools.
"Charter schools are not the catchall for problems," said Tignor, a former
public school teacher. "There's a place for them, and I don't know whether
Prince George's is or is not the place for them."
Tignor also called the effort in Prince George's premature because the
school board has not decided on a charter school policy. The board will
vote on a policy next month, she said.
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